Think fast: Your kiddo breaks their arm. Is it an emergency, or just urgent?

It might surprise you to know that it depends. If the bone is sticking out through the skin, that’s a true emergency. If it’s still in there, though, urgent care works just fine – even if the bone is visibly bent.

So what’s the difference? Emergency departments are set up to handle serious, life-threatening illnesses and injuries. They also tend to be located in hospitals, meaning they can admit kids to an inpatient bed if needed. Generally, they’re also quite a bit more expensive.

When your kid needs care right now but it’s not life-threatening (for that broken arm, say), our pediatric urgent care facilities can help out with the rest, from sprains to concussions to a bad case of the flu.

Here’s the basic breakdown:

Go to the closest emergency department or call 911:

  • Your child’s skin or lips have turned blue
  • Your child is unresponsive or difficult to wake up
  • Your child is having serious trouble breathing
  • Your child has a head injury with continuous vomiting or changes in alertness
  • Your child has ingested something potentially dangerous (call Poison Control first)
  • Your child has a potentially serious eye injury
  • An object is stuck in your child (don’t pull it out!)
  • Numbness, tingling or paralysis, or weakness on one side of the body
  • Unexplained slurring or difficulty speaking
  • Your child is having seizures that won’t stop

Call your primary care provider or head to a Children’s Hospital Colorado urgent care:

  • Any injury or condition that does not seem life-threatening
  • Simple lacerations, cuts and bruises
  • Head injuries, as long as they’re acting normally and not vomiting
  • Swallowed objects, as long as there’s no difficulty breathing
  • Headaches or migraines, as long as there’s no blurred vision, numbness, tingling or weakness

Whether emergency or urgent care is the right way to go, when it comes to kids, the most important factor is the right care for kids – even (and especially) in an urgent or emergency situation. Pediatric emergency medicine physicians have three additional years of training, so they can diagnose and treat common and not-so-common pediatric emergency conditions, including ones an adult physician might hardly ever see.

Pediatric physicians, nurses and support staff are also trained in skills that help them make kids and families feel comfortable with care, meaning kids get care more efficiently, with less pain.

Kids have faster heart rates, growing bones, smaller airways. They respond to medical tests, drugs and treatments differently. That’s why the specialized training and equipment to diagnose and treat kids at any age or stage is critical, whether it’s urgent or an emergency.

At Children’s Colorado, our emergency and urgent care facilities are staffed with board-certified pediatricians, as well as advanced practice providers like nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Our Anschutz Medical Campus is equipped with the only level 1 pediatric trauma center in Colorado and the surrounding states, meaning we’re equipped to handle the most severe emergencies imaginable.

There’s no difference in the skill level of physicians who staff our urgent care facilities versus our emergency departments, but pediatric expertise is just as important. Here, you’ll get it either way.

In fact, going to urgent care in a non-emergency situation can help ensure that our emergency departments don’t get overwhelmed with patients. That can help all kids get the level of care they need, faster.

In any case, the best rule of thumb: If the situation seems life threatening, immediately go to the nearest emergency department. Better yet, call 911.

If it’s not life-threatening, often the best place to start is by calling your child’s primary care provider. They’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action.

And if your child does need urgent or emergency care, at Children’s Colorado, we’ll partner with your child’s primary care provider to communicate and work together to make sure your child gets all the care they need, when they need it.