Pediatric emergency doctors in Chicago say half of the traumatic injuries they see each year happen in the lazy days of summer between May and September.
More specifically, July and August are when the number of deaths from excessive heat, drownings, motor vehicles and unintentional shootings for those under 18 typically peak, according to the Itsaca, Ill.,-based National Safety Council, which has tracked preventable injuries and fatalities in the U.S. for 98 years.
“Summer is trauma season,” said Dr. Charles Nozicka, director of emergency medicine at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. He sees kids rushed in for bone-breaking falls, near-drownings and even heat exhaustion, among other seasonal injuries.
But where is best for treatment of injuries and illness — an urgent care clinic or an emergency room?
URGENT CARE CENTER
Urgent care centers have convenience and cost. The Urgent Care Association, an industry group, estimates that illness and injury visits typically cost $115-$160. Many urgent care sites operate on a first-come, first-served basis, so patients can be seen sooner.
Emergency rooms, though more expensive, are better able to deal with severe injuries and symptoms, like allergic reactions, difficulty breathing or poisonings. Things like sunburn or bothersome insect bites (unless breathing is impaired) can be dealt with at an urgent care clinic.
WHERE SHOULD I GO?
That considered, two common summer injuries will likely need to be treated in an emergency room, doctors said: badly broken bones and long or deep wounds. (For very young kids, doctors advise parents call their pediatrician first, if possible. Even after hours, many offices do respond with guidance.)
If you bring your child to an urgent care clinic for either of these conditions, you will likely be referred to an emergency room anyway, said Dr. Elizabeth Powell, an emergency medicine physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital. “Many urgent cares can’t do suturing, so it just takes a lot of time, and parents don’t need to have waited in two places.” Some urgent care centers can do stitches for less serious cuts, and some treat less severe bone breaks.
If you make an emergency room your first stop, expect to wait a bit for help.
“Unless you have a true life-threatening emergency, you’re not going to be seen right away,” Nozicka said.
Emergency rooms, which, like urgent care centers, won’t have your child’s medical history, also they get “one shot at you,” Nozicka said. As a result, emergency physicians tend to rule things out and often won’t make a diagnosis. In the process, he said, “They tend to use imaging more than usual, and they also tend to order a lot of labs, which makes your visit longer, and which makes your visit less pleasant, especially if you’re a child.”
Translation: higher costs.
PLAY IT SAFE
The best treatment for seasonal accidents, experts say, is to prevent them in the first place. Ensure kids wear helmets and protective gear when on bikes, skates and scooters; keep pools fenced off; and use the proper safety seat in a vehicle. Store the number for the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) in a parent’s cellphone.
Vigilance is key, especially when children are near water. “Children always need to be supervised by an attentive caregiver,” said Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “That means not reading, not being on a cellphone and not consuming alcohol.”
When in groups, she advises caregivers declare exactly who is watching young ones, and not simply assume that someone in the group is.