Saving time and money when using after hours medical care

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE)- The doctor's office is closed and your child is in need of medical care.  Deciding where to turn can be a tough call to make. Especially during cold and flu season, when numerous illnesses are causing numerous symptoms, parents find themselves asking, is it a true emergency? Is Immediate Care enough care? Or, Is it safe to just wait until the child can see his doctor, the person who knows his medical history best.

Dr. Keith Cross is with UofL Pediatric Emergency Medicine and works in the Kosair Children's Hospital Emergency Department.

Making the call he says, "it's not always easy to know, particularly with young children."

The ER treats the obvious emergencies 24-7. Problems like severe bleeding, head trauma, loss of consciousness and severe broken bones. What may not be as obvious, especially for new parents says Dr. Cross is recognizing respiratory distress.

"Lots of kids have trouble breathing when they're sick, they get stuffy noses and coughs and so forth and that's not respiratory distress."

True respiratory distress is a true emergency and can happen a lot during cold and flu season. It can be caused from routine illness, like croup and RSV, pneumonia and serious asthma flares.

It's simple says Dr. Cross, "we just don't fool around with children in respiratory distress. That can get from bad to worse very very quickly."

Signs of respiratory distress include rapid breathing, retractions around the neck and ribs, blue lips and even signs of lethargy from the child working so hard to breath.

These children need emergency care. Also kids with chronic medical issues that are being complicated by a cold or flu. Those children also need care in an Emergency Department that can provide them the specialist care they need.

So when then should a parent turn to Immediate or Urgent Care?

Experts advice these centers are great for after-hour care that need immediate attention, not emergency attention.  

"They're good for minor colds and ear aches. They're pretty good for minor injuries" Dr. Cross said.

Injuries that include sprains and simple fractures. Minor cuts and minor eye injuries. Even flu and fevers should likely be seen by immediate, not emergency care.

"Fevers are a popular reason to come to the ER, however it turns out most fevers are very easy to manage" said Dr. Cross. Manage even at home. But if a parent is ever in doubt on whether the situation can truly be cared for appropriately at home, the parent should call the pediatrician's on-call service.  

"Pediatricians are always the people you should call first, unless it's a life-threatening emergency"  Dr. Cross said.

On call service is designed to help parents make those tough calls, between ER visit, urgent care and waiting it out to see the child's doctor the next day.

UofL Pediatrician Dr. Judy Theriot answers the late night calls of parents. She says the symptoms are often NOT serious enough to warrant emergency or even urgent care. Waiting to see a primary care physician will cost an average of $20 to $40. The bill at an urgent care center can run $100 to much higher depending on insurance.  ER visits can cost around $500 or more, again, depending on insurance.

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