Emergency vs urgent care: The ER isn’t for everything

How one family got peace of mind, on their time, and avoided a trip to the ER

Cheerful girl sitting in an urgent care exam room and holding up her arm while being examined by a doctor.

Parents know the sound. A loud noise from a nearby room immediately followed by a scream from a child in pain. The subsequent rush to the youngster’s side. These moments can be confusing for parents, consoling an injured child and trying to figure out what to do.

In the past, instincts and old habits may have led to a costly trip to the emergency room. But families in and around Sioux Falls, South Dakota, today have a convenient option in cases of the slips and falls and bumps and bruises that can happen to people of all ages.

Advanced medical care is accessible — even outside regular clinic hours — through urgent care, also called walk-in and acute care. It’s the type of care Sanford Orthopedic Fast Track Clinics specialize in.

Possible broken bone

Miles Walton was having a great Sunday. He and his father, Marcus, had just wrapped up Boy Scouts camp, and he was playing with his cousins in his home. But a misstep on a bunk bed ladder late in the day sent the 8-year-old tumbling to the floor.

His arm took the brunt of the fall. He was in pain, yelling out that he had broken it. His mother, father, aunt and uncle rushed to his aid.

Miles’ mother, Abby Walton, recalls the moments after the fall. She didn’t see evidence of a broken bone and had a lot running through her mind.

“I really didn’t want to go to the ER, and I wasn’t fully aware of the level of care available at the acute care,” she said. “When you’re in the moment, it can be hard to know.”

Many have experienced that doubt in medical situations. It’s helpful to remember that the “E” in ER stands for emergency. The hospital emergency room is for emergency situations only.

Go to the ER or call 911 for:

  • Deep wounds
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Vomiting blood
  • Chest pain
  • Major broken bones

Go to urgent care or an Orthopedic Fast Track Clinic for:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Back pain
  • Cold and flu
  • Fever
  • Minor broken bones

The family calmed Miles down, and Abby and Marcus considered their options. They didn’t think the injury was serious enough for an emergency room visit and decided instead on an acute care clinic that features specialized care for cases like Miles’.

X-ray in urgent care

They arrived at a Sanford Orthopedic Fast Track Clinic where Miles got to see a provider right away who performed an X-ray of the arm. With no fracture, Miles was diagnosed with a hyperextension of the elbow.

Less than an hour after Miles’ fall, the family was home with a pizza to ease the pain.

Miles’ scans were reviewed the next morning by a Sanford Orthopedics and Sports Medicine specialist to confirm the diagnosis, and the Waltons were notified via their My Sanford Chart mobile app. Miles could go back to his daily summer fun as soon as he felt up to it. He was back on the baseball field, in the pool and playing with his friends in days.

“I feel a lot better,” Miles said.

His parents say they are thankful for the peace of mind provided by seeing their son treated so quickly and by receiving follow-up care from an expert in the field.

“Before this, I wasn’t aware that we could just go to a clinic to have X-rays taken as quickly as we did,” Marcus said.

“Sometimes it’s confusing in those after-hour times,” Abby said. “I’m grateful that we could go to the clinic, get X-rays and a provider could tell us what was going on and get Miles feeling better quickly. It’s all about talking to the right person.”

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Posted In Emergency Medicine, Orthopedics, Sports Medicine

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