Should I Visit an After-Hours Clinic or the Emergency Department?
Your child gets sick at night or on a weekend. Should you go to the emergency department or a walk-in clinic, or wait until your pediatrician’s office opens?
“I deal with that question as a doctor and as the parent of three boys, and I hear from friends who are concerned about a sick child during off hours,” said Maya Neeley, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says you should seek emergency care if your child exhibits or experiences any of the following behaviors or situations.
- Acts strangely, or becomes more withdrawn and less alert
- Becomes decreasingly responsive to you or other caregivers
- Loses consciousness
- Jerks rhythmically and loses consciousness
- Experiences increasing trouble with breathing
- Shows a change in skin or lip color to dusky or blue/gray
- Has neck stiffness or rash with a fever
- Experiences uncontrolled or persistent pain
- Has suffered a severe cut or burn, especially on the head
- Continues bleeding after applying pressure for 5 minutes
- Experiences a head injury accompanied by loss of consciousness, confusion, severe headache, or vomiting
- Has a compound fracture (broken bone that is visible)
- Inhales smoke
- Ingests poison
- Suspected victim of sexual abuse
Most situations are less serious. Your pediatrician or family practitioner who knows your child's medical history can handle most illnesses. Many offices also have after-hours doctors or nurses on call to help guide your decision.
Our Vanderbilt Children's After-Hours Clinics in Brentwood, Hendersonville, Mt. Juliet, Murfreesboro and Spring Hill can bridge the gap when your pediatrician's office is closed, but you don’t want to visit the ED.
After-hours care includes:
- Sore throats and ear infections
- Rashes and skin infections
- Gastrointestinal illnesses, such as vomiting and diarrhea with mild dehydration
- Respiratory problems, such as coughs, asthma, and croup
- Evaluation and splinting of injuries to arms and legs with coordination of orthopaedist appointment (next business day) if needed
- Simple wounds
- Foreign objects in ears and noses
- Other illnesses and injuries including colds and allergies
Neeley also offered these tips.
- Post the poison control center phone number in a place you will remember. Call (800) 222-1222 if you suspect your child has ingested a poison or medication. Children's Hospital is Nashville's regional poison control center.
- There are times you can drive your child to an emergency department, but if there is serious danger, call 911.