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Help! Where Should I Take My Child for Care?

March 22, 2023

Mother and child wait in an urgent care anteroom.

What should you do if your child wakes up in the middle of the night with abdominal pain? If your teen twists an ankle at a weekend soccer game and can’t bear weight? When your baby spikes a high fever just before bedtime? Unexpected accidents and illnesses happen all the time – so make sure you know where to go when a health emergency strikes.

“Your first call should be to your pediatrician or family doctor,” says Michael Gerardi, MD, an Atlantic Health System emergency physician and pediatric specialist. “When that’s not an option, knowing ahead of time where to get care and what specialists and services are on-site will give you peace of mind when you’re in a stressed mental state.”

Dr. Gerardi explains that parents should know care locations, hours and ages treated before they’re faced with a crisis. Here are the different levels of care if--and when--you need to see a doctor, fast.

Pediatrician or Family Doctor

The familiar environment of your doctor’s office is always the first option to consider for an illness or injury. Because these doctors know you and your child, they can help you make swift and prudent medical decisions. Many offices now see patients during the evenings, on weekends and virtually as well. This gives your family expanded access to the medical experts you know and trust – which brings comfort and speedy care to your family.

Walk-in Clinics or Urgent Care Centers

These offer convenient, same-day medical care for a variety of health problems: sore throats, cough, and sprains, strains or small cuts that may require stitches. They are open days, evenings, and weekends and are staffed by board-certified physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. Medical teams handle injuries and illnesses that need to be treated right away but are not apparent life or limb-threatening emergencies. They also provide physical exams, vaccines, and referrals to specialists, if needed.

Advanced Urgent Care

For more complex emergencies, advanced urgent care sites are available without needing an appointment. They are efficient alternatives to hospital emergency departments. Atlantic Health System facilities are staffed by emergency medicine physicians, acute care nurses, and techs with advanced on-site labs and imaging such as X-rays and CT scans. Advanced urgent care sites refer only 2% of the patients that come through the doors to an emergency department. These centers have extended and weekend/holiday hours with easy access to experts and health care services, typically for ages 6 months and older. They will follow you through your acute illness or injury if your primary care physician/specialist is not available.

Hospital Emergency Departments

Severe illnesses and injuries call for swift action. Some hospitals have a designated pediatric emergency department. All hospital emergency departments are open around-the clock and staffed with emergency physicians and nurses capable of handling the most complex and critical needs. If your child is in crisis with a fever with rash, respiratory distress, uncontrolled bleeding, protruding broken bones, or lacerations that need plastic surgery, they need emergency department care fast. If they’re unresponsive or unstable, you need to call 911 immediately. “Parents need to know their options in advance because the severity of a child’s injury dictates the level of care needed,” says Dr. Gerardi. “A lack of planning just adds to a parent’s anxiety in the moment, so it’s important to talk with their primary care physician ahead of time and be prepared for the unexpected.” Dr. Gerardi also advises parents to establish a MyChart account for every family member. This electronic medical record travels with you and gives doctors quick, easy access to your child’s health history and medications.

Atlantic Health System offers over 20 urgent care sites across northern New Jersey. We provide a variety of urgent and walk-in services so patients can easily access medical care when they need it most. No appointments are necessary, and most insurances are accepted.

Find an Atlantic Health System urgent care site near you >

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