Deciding between urgent care and the emergency room

When your child suddenly gets injured or very sick, you have to make a quick decision. Do you go to the emergency room or to a urgent care type clinic?

7 year old Megan Calloway is no stranger to the staff at the Mercy Convenient Care in Oklahoma City. A recent case of the flu and strep throat brought her there. Her mom, Shannon, was happy to avoid the emergency room across the street.

"No appointment," said Shannon. "You just walk in, and generally, you're seen very quickly."

"When I'm talking, they never talk over me," said Megan. "And they listen to me."

Doctors say parents should look out for certain symptoms which can serve as clues you should skip the clinic and head straight to the emergency room.

Dr. Lance Watson, Medical Director of the Mercy OKC Emergency Department, described some of those symptoms. "If the child is having severe respiratory distress. If they're not acting themselves. Those are signs they could have a more severe illness."

Each urgent care clinic varies in what they can treat, but Dr. Watson says typically, those clinics are well equipped to handle flu and strep tests and can do chest and some bone x-rays. While an ER can provide ultrasounds, cat scans, and fluids and meds through an IV. That's very important in your child has severe stomach issues.

"Maybe the child's having severe abdominal pain," said Dr. Watson. "They're having persistent vomiting or diarrhea, where you're concerned they're getting dehydrated. More times than not, it's better to take them to the emergency department for their evaluation."

Also in an ER, Dr. Watson says you're more likely to see a physician versus a physician's assistant or nurse practitioner.

As for Megan, the Convenient Care clinic was exactly what she needed to start feeling better. It's now a familiar place for her to get treated.

Shannon said, "We feel more like family than just a number passing through."

Most urgent care clinics work very closely with emergency departments, so if they feel they aren't capable of treating you there, they can often transfer you to an ER very quickly.

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