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Is it an emergency? When to take your kids to the ER or urgent care

Knowing when you can skip the ER for an urgent care clinic could save you money.

When your child has an accident or injury, it can be hard not to overreact as a parent. 

The last thing you want is to neglect the care your child may need after a hard trip, slip, sprain or fall. And with some accidents, like a head injury, neglecting care could lead to serious health issues for your kid.

But rushing your child to the emergency room when you don’t really need to could add more unnecessary stress to the situation — and cost you a decent chunk of change.

Of the almost 140 million emergency room visits in America each year, less than 10% require hospital admission. 

That means 90% of ER visits are cases that very likely don’t need a visit to the ER. For these events, your child could be better served by an urgent care clinic.

Urgent care clinics visits are typically much cheaper.

You’ve got enough to worry about while raising your kid, like convincing them to eat their vegetables and getting them to soccer on time. Not to mention the expenses that are built-in to raising a child (college isn’t cheap).

Avoiding the ER except for in the case of a true emergency is a smart way to help your family some money and stress. 

Here’s the average price of an ER visit, when you should take your child, and when you may want to choose an urgent care clinic instead. 

The cost of the ER

The average cost of a visit to the ER is $2000, with prices rising year after year.

Hospitals charge extra for emergency room visits, sometimes up to 340% more than what Medicare insurance will cover.

Here’s a breakdown of what some parts of an ER visits could cost you:

  • Ambulance: $224 to $2,204
  • X-Rays: $260 to $460
  • Hospital Stay (if your visit results in a night at the hospital): ~$1500-$2000 per day

When to visit the ER

Even though they can be expensive, there is a reason that emergency rooms exist. And that’s for true emergencies.

So what constitutes an emergency? 

You’ll want to quickly assess your child’s condition to determine if an ER visit is the right choice.

The National Institutes of Health provides the following guidelines for what constitutes an emergency:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting
  • Sudden and extreme headaches
  • Sudden loss of senses or ability to move
  • Sudden weakness or dizziness
  • Inhalation of smoke or noxious fumes
  • Serious burns
  • High fever that doesn’t recede with medication and rest
  • Overdose or consumption of poison
  • Throwing up blood
  • Broken bone

Many of these symptoms will be easy to identify if they happen to your child. But something like a broken bone can be tough to diagnose, (unless it’s displaced or pushing through the skin).

If your child is in pain and you can’t tell if the bone is broken, you can start by visiting urgent care. They may recommend you go to the ER if they can’t treat the break there.

But for something like a broken bone, an ER visit could cost you 3 to 6 times more than urgent care.

Here are 3 questions to ask yourself to determine if your child has a broken bone:

  • Was there a snap or crack when the injury happened? 
  • Is the area around the injury heavily bruised, swollen, or tender to touch and movement?
  • Does the area of the injury appear deformed?

If the answer to any of these 3 questions is yes, you may need to take your child to the ER for treatment. 

When to call an ambulance 

In extremely urgent situations, you may need to call 911 to bring the ER to you. These situations can include:

  • Injury to head or neck, paired with the loss of movement or feeling in any part of the body
  • Choking
  • Seizures lasting over 3 minutes
  • Severe burns or bleeding
  • Deep wounds
  • Severe pain or pressure in the chest
  • Electric shocks (including lightning)
  • Stopped breathing

When to go to urgent care

If your child hasn’t experienced an injury as severe as the ones described above, a visit to an urgent care clinic may be your best option.

A visit to urgent care starts at around $75-$125. Additional procedures like X-rays, blood tests, flu shots, or casting broken bones cost about $150. 

A visit to an urgent care clinic will more than likely cost you a couple hundred dollars, which is a lot less than the thousands the ER may cost.

When should you take your child to an urgent care clinic instead of the ER? According to the National Institutes of Health, urgent care is best for the following conditions:

  • Flu and mild fevers
  • Sore throats and earaches
  • Migraines
  • Minor burns and cuts
  • Back pain
  • Sprains, fractures, minor broken bones

What to do if you’re unsure

If you aren’t sure if your child has a medical emergency or not, the National Institutes of Health recommends you call the emergency room and explain the condition or injury. 

You can also call your insurance provider or your family doctor to ask what you should do.

If you do end up at the ER with your child, there are still ways to protect your family against unexpected medical bills.

Affordable accident insurance covers costs associated with accidents, including medical bills not covered by your basic insurance plan. 

The lump-sum cash provided can also be used to help pay for transportation costs to and from treatment, child care, and even rent.

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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