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Popsicles and ERs: Where You Should Go in an Emergency

1512852_10152231633386120_2165857401338277757_nRecently my 14-month-old daughter had her first “big” injury. She fell face-first into the corner of a friend’s coffee table and came up with a mouth gushing full of blood. It made my new mama heart race as I frantically tried to figure out how bad it really was.

Thank goodness, it was a just a small cut inside her mouth, and within minutes the bleeding stopped and she was happily eating a popsicle.

But in our family, the babies aren’t the only ones with health scares. Over the summer we ended up in the emergency room twice with my husband. (He’s fine too.)

Let’s face it; emergencies happen. As moms, we are most often the healthcare decision makers for our families–in some cases, for our children, our spouses, AND our parents. With so many options out there, it’s good to know where you should go before an emergency happens.

The Star-Telegram recently ran an article about the huge increase in the number of free-standing emergency rooms and the confusion that occurs when people expect an urgent care bill instead receive a much higher ER bill.

After a decade of working in hospital marketing, I have helped open free-standing ERs, advertised for ER wait times, and worked with physicians in a wide range of specialties. Here’s the scoop on the differences, the costs, and how you can know which option best fits your family:

1. Your primary care physician (PCP): For your normal healthcare concerns during regular business hours, going to a physician, with whom you have a long-standing relationship, is ideal. When shopping for a new PCP, ask if he or she takes same-day appointments and offer evening and weekend clinics, usually for an extra fee. Many offices will also have a doctor on call so first-time moms like me can find out if that middle-of-the-night-fever is safe or if a trip to the emergency room is necessary.

2. Urgent care clinics: When your primary care office is closed, urgent care clinics provide a great back-up for the same types of minor issues you would discuss with your doctor. These clinics are staffed with primary care physicians and not emergency room physicians, and typically charge a higher fee than your PCP.

3. Free-standing emergency rooms: These are actual ERs staffed with actual ER physicians and are great for emergencies where you don’t anticipate being admitted. You will pay an emergency room rate (typically much higher than an urgent care or PCP rate), and if you need to be admitted to a hospital, you will be transferred by ambulance, which often incurs another charge. Some free-standing emergency rooms are affiliated with hospitals. Do your homework and find out who it’s affiliated with before you go because most likely that’s where you’ll be transferred if you or your loved one needs to be admitted.

4. Hospital-based emergency rooms: These are staffed with ER physicians and have inpatient beds where you can be admitted. ERs are staffed to be able to stabilize anybody, from babies to adults, but many hospitals do not offer inpatient pediatrics, which means the physician and nurses who treat your child will most likely not specialize in pediatrics. It also means that if your child needs to be admitted, he or she will be transferred to another facility. (Check out Anna’s list of when to take a child to the ER.)

5. Calling 911. In certain emergencies (heart attacks, strokes, certain allergic reactions, and more), it’s important to get treatment started before you get to the emergency room. If you are the one who is sick and don’t feel like you can safely drive yourself, call 911.

Emergencies are bound to happen, but doing your research ahead of time will help you know where to go. Keep your doctor’s phone numbers saved in your phone and know the best route to your local emergency room so that in an emergency, you can stay calm and know what to do. And, a lesson I learned the hard way last week: Be sure to keep a stash of popsicles in your freezer in case your little one knocks her mouth on your coffee table.

Have you had an emergency with your child? Where did you take them and were you pleased with the care?

One Response to Popsicles and ERs: Where You Should Go in an Emergency

  1. Amber Wills September 10, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Such great information! I had no idea there was a difference between urgent care and freestanding ERs.

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