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Urgent care vs. Emergency medicine: Choosing the best care for the condition

Published on Sunday, May 1, 2022

By: Annie Oeth,

A sick or injured child can feel like an emergency, but is a hospital emergency department the right place to get care?

Often urgent care clinics such as the Children’s of Mississippi urgent care clinic at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Grants Ferry location are more appropriate for conditions ranging from flu to some fractures.

Portrait of Dr. Benjamin Dillard

Generally, if children can walk, talk, interact with others and play, their condition isn’t an emergency, said Dr. Benji Dillard, division director of general pediatrics and pediatric urgent care. Dillard previously served as chief of pediatric emergency medicine at UMMC.

An emergency room offers a higher level of care than an urgent care clinic, making it a better fit for conditions that are life-threatening.

Conditions that require emergency department care can include:

  • A fever of 100.4 degrees or higher in a child younger than 2 months
  • A suspected broken bone with swelling and unevenness, which could indicate the bone is misaligned
  • Your child has had a seizure
  • Loss of consciousness after a blow to the head
  • Signs of dehydration such as lethargy, confusion, dry lips and not urinating for longer than 12 hours
  • Heavy breathing or gasping for air
  • Gaping cuts on the face, especially in younger children who may need sedation while the laceration is being repaired
Portrait of Fernando Gomez

“Anytime a child is breathing very hard, being inappropriately sleepy or difficult to arouse, or has intractable pain or fussiness, or uncontrollable vomiting, emergency care should be sought,” said Dr. Fernando Gomez, chief of pediatric emergency medicine. “Additionally, fever in the very young – babies 2 months old or younger – is taken very seriously.”

Emergency care should always be sought for other potentially life-threatening symptoms such as passing out, heavy bleeding, deep wounds, serious burns, severe allergic reactions, stiff neck with headache and fever, suspected poisoning and seizures, he said.

Still, there are plenty of conditions that urgent care – with shorter wait times and lower costs – can be the appropriate level of care. These include:

  • Suspected flu
  • Ear infections
  • Suspected strep throat
  • Pink eye
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Cuts
  • Vomiting or diarrhea with no blood in the stool and no stomach pain or signs of dehydration
  • Sprains and simple fractures

“Multiple conditions can leave children in discomfort and needing urgent health care, but these conditions usually aren’t severe enough to warrant emergency department care,” Dillard said. “Urgent care fills the gap between basic care in a clinic and the emergency department, and it provides a more efficient and cost-effective option for treatment of minor illness and injury when compared to care in an emergency department.”

Since these conditions don’t always happen from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Children’s of Mississippi urgent care is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Grants Ferry Clinic, 1010 Lakeland Place in Flowood.

“This gives families access to care that’s closer to home for many and that’s more appropriate for some conditions,” Dillard said.

Patients who have complex medical conditions are seen at the Grants Ferry clinic when they have conditions that call for urgent care, Dillard said.

“We welcome all children who have minor illnesses or injury that needs evaluation and treatment, including children with complex medical needs.” Dillard said. “We are already seeing a number of patients with complex conditions such as congenital heart disease, autism, sickle cell disease, and children dependent on medical technology.”

Children’s of Mississippi Urgent Care patients can make appointments at the clinic, but walk-ins are also welcome. To schedule an appointment, call (601) 815-0610.

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.