Docter with mother and daughter in patient room.

Child Health | one month ago

Where to Go for the Right Type of Medical Care

What care is best for your symptoms? Here's a guide to when you should see your primary care provider or pediatrician, schedule a virtual visit or go to the emergency room.

Please call 911 if you or someone else has a medical emergency that needs transportation for immediate care.

It’s 2 a.m. and your toddler is fatigued, complaining of an earache and has a fever. You’re not sure it’s an emergency, but the thought of waiting it out until the morning sounds miserable for everyone. What do you do?

If you’ve ever wondered where to go when you’re feeling sick or injured, you’re not alone. Nearly 130 million people head to the emergency room each year, but a large percentage of those visits are not actual emergencies.

While we are fortunate to have several accessible options for care available, how do you know where to go and when? 

When to Visit Your Primary Care Provider or Pediatrician

If you are established with a family doctor or pediatrician, think of primary care as your friend and advocate. He or she knows your family’s medical history and can offer health insight that other types of care may take longer to provide. If your little one suffers from chronic ear infections that don’t (have not responded) respond to past medications, for example, your Atrium Health Levine Children’s pediatrician may be able to provide more effective solutions quickly.

You should visit your primary care doctor or pediatrician for:

  • Basic, yearly check-ups, vaccinations and health screenings
  • If you are feeling under the weather and don’t feel your life is in immediate danger
  • If you have chronic illnesses, like high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. 
  • For children, any high fever, especially if it’s not responding to medicine

You’ll need to schedule an appointment – but if your concern is not urgent, this is the best choice for you. 

To make an appointment, go to MyAtriumHealth.org or our MyAtriumHealth app, find a new doctor online or call. Some conditions don’t warrant an in-person consultation, and in that case, you can schedule a video visit with your primary care provider or pediatrician.

If you are looking for a primary care doctor or pediatrician, find one here.

When to Use Virtual Care

Great care is often just a video call away. Telemedicine use has become a widespread, trusted resource for help when families need medical care but don’t necessarily need to physically visit a doctor’s office. 

Virtual care is a good option for non life-threatening symptoms.

Some symptoms and scenarios that virtual care can be used for:

  • Mild cold symptoms such as a cough, slight fever, runny nose or sore throat
  • Mild vomiting or diarrhea
  • Skin issues such as mild rashes (unless accompanied by fever) or itchiness
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Pink eye
  • Urinary tract infection (for adults only)

Video visits are available 24/7 with no appointment necessary. You will need internet access and a smartphone, tablet or computer to chat with a physician or medical professional from the comfort of your home – or wherever you may be. eVisits are another virtual care option available that allow you to have a consultation via email with a nurse who can provide you a care plan and prescribe medicine if needed.

Whether you are new to Atrium Health or an existing patient, our virtual care options are easy to access. Start a visit now by checking out our “Get Care Now” options.

When to Go to an Urgent Care

Did you know your local urgent care location can help with simple stitches, minor burns and even minor bone breaks?  Similar to primary care, you’ll want to visit an urgent care facility if you’re experiencing an illness or injury that doesn’t put your life in danger, but the care you need is more immediate. Perhaps you suspect your cold symptoms are turning into a sinus infection, or you have a mild cut on your hand that needs to be cleaned and assessed for stitches. These are both non life-threatening situations that would warrant a trip to urgent care.

You should visit urgent care if you have:

  • Moderate flu-like symptoms
  • Minor wounds, abrasions, burns or cuts that may require stitches
  • Sprains or strains
  • Ongoing vomiting or diarrhea
  • Fever without a rash
  • Ear pain
  • Eye redness, itchiness or discharge
  • Abdominal pain 

Another bonus of urgent care is it does not require an appointment. You can walk in for care when it fits your schedule thanks to convenient extended hours every day of the week. For the best experience, reserve your spot online beforehand to reduce your waiting time.

Keep in mind the above conditions may warrant a trip to the emergency room depending on your child’s age (especially infants) and medical history.

When to Go to the Emergency Department 

For serious illness or injury that may put your life in danger, seek help at the nearest emergency department. Medical staff in emergency departments are available 24/7, ready to address patients for a number of critical conditions. 

You should visit an emergency department if you experience:

  • Serious cuts, burns or wounds
  • Severe cold or flu symptoms
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weakness or numbness throughout the body
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy
  • Seizures

Infants and young children may require emergency care for the below additional conditions, including symptoms of RSV, pneumonia, flu and COVID-19 or accidents, like near drowning, injury after being dropped or involvement in a car accident.

  • Fever with neck stiffness
  • Fever with a rash 
  • Fever associated with mood changes or irritability 
  • Fever (100.4 degrees or higher) in a baby under two months old
  • Low fever (below 96.8 degrees) that won’t go up
  • Burn injuries
  • Deep bleeding cuts or crush injuries with bone deformity
  • Seizures 
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bloody urine, stool or vomit
  • Looking pale or blue
  • Difficulty breathing

Important note: Call 911 for medical emergencies in which you need transportation for immediate care. Authorities will dispatch an ambulance to pick you up and take you to the nearest hospital. 

View our symptom checker via MyAtriumHealth to find the care that fits your needs.