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Know When to Go

Mom Magazine - December 2015 / January 2016

Know When to Go

Whether you should call 9-1-1 or your doctor's office, Santiam Hospital offers some guidelines to help make your decision easier.
In most cases, go with your gut. People often intuitively know when an illness or injury requires emergency medical attention.  It is the conditions at the middle of the spectrum that can cause doubt.

Your primary care clinic should be home base for your child's healthcare needs.  The provider who knows your child best should manage all regular check-ups, vaccinations, and chronic conditions.  If your child has a fever or cough that persists for more than a week, they should go in for a visit.  While this can be troubling, children can often safely endure fevers up to 102 degrees.  A nurse or medical assistant may recommend a dose of Motrin or Tylenol appropriate to their age and advise you to make sure they drink water.  Sprains, strains, coughs, and severe sore throats can often be treated at your local clinic.  In addition it is a good choice for children who are vomiting, have painful urination or fever without a rash.  Again, trust your parental instinct.  If the child's demeanor and activity level are relatively normal, they probably just need to be monitored and a trip to the doctor is not necessary.
In most cases of a cold and flu, the old adage of 'drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest' still apply, but when in doubt, call your child's provider's clinic.  Many medical clinics often offer same-day appointments with a nurse practitioner if your doctor is unavailable.  Even after hours, most clinics have a system in place for triage.  The call may be directed to an on-call physician or nurse that can answer your questions over the phone, or give you further instructions if they think your child requires immediate attention. Just having the opinion of a medical professional can go a long way to managing a parent's anxiety.

The conditions on the ER end of the spectrum include unconsciousness, possible poisoning, broken limbs, severe burns or when a child is having trouble breathing.  If you suspect your child might have a head, neck or spine injury; if they have uncontrolled bleeding; or if you are far from an emergency room, the best bet is to call 9-1-1 instead of trying to transport them yourself.  The professionals on the 9-1-1 call can also help you perform basic and sometimes life-saving first aid in the time before help arrives.

A hospital's emergency room is equipped to handle the most serious and urgent of medical cases.  Since an emergency department is equipped and staffed to handle severe injury and trauma, it is generally more expensive than a trip to your doctor's office.  It is important to consider the incurred cost for an emergency room visit.  That does not mean the ER should be avoided, just used appropriately.