Children's Hospital Colorado

When to Choose Urgent Care vs. the Emergency Room for Your Child

When your child is sick or injured, it can be difficult to tell how serious it is or what type of care they need. Children’s Hospital Colorado is here to help. Our pediatric experts provide guidance on when to choose virtual or in-person urgent care vs. the emergency room, the differences between these options, and how to make an informed decision that can save you time and money.

If you believe your child needs immediate attention and you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911. 

My child is sick or injured. What should I do first? 

If you are not concerned for a life-threating emergency and unsure where to go, Children’s Colorado’s Alison Brent, MD, advises caregivers call their child's primary care provider or pediatrician. They can advise you on the best course of action for your unique situation. 

If you don’t have a primary care provider or they’re unavailable, you can call our ParentSmart Healthline at 720-777-0123 to speak with a registered nurse 24/7. Children's Colorado also has a free mobile app with helpful resources on assessing your child's illness. 

What’s the difference between urgent care and emergency room?  

Generally, urgent care treats everyday injuries and illnesses that need medical attention when your primary care provider is not available. Children’s Colorado offers in-person and virtual urgent care options to ensure that your child receives expert pediatric care quickly and conveniently. 

Emergency rooms are equipped to handle the most serious injuries and illnesses and offer a broader range of services than you can receive through urgent care. Emergency departments are located in hospitals, which means they accept ambulances, may have a helipad and can admit your child to an inpatient bed if necessary. In general, it is more expensive to go to the emergency department than to urgent care.  

Seeking urgent care services in a non-emergency situation can help ensure that our emergency departments aren't overwhelmed with patients who do not need emergency resources. This helps all kids receive the level of care they need faster. 

Where to seek care for your child

Call 911 or head straight to the emergency room if:

  • Your child's skin or lips have turned blue
  • Your child is unresponsive or difficult to wake up
  • Your child is having difficulty breathing (look for signs of the chest retracting and lips and/or fingers turning blue) 

Use the links below to learn where to take your child for certain conditions, illnesses and injuries. You can also download our printable guide of when to seek urgent vs. emergency care:

Why choose a pediatric urgent care or emergency room  

Children are not small adults. Even in a situation where urgent or emergency care is needed, pediatric expertise matters. Read more about why it’s important to seek pediatric care for your child whenever possible.

What to expect when you visit a Children’s Hospital Colorado urgent care or emergency room

Whether you visit one of our urgent care locations or an emergency room, your child will be seen and treated by pediatric experts who are specially trained to treat kids.  

Before your visit, review our policies and procedures for up-to-date information on visitor policies, security and health screenings and more.

What do I need to know about the cost of my urgent care or emergency room visit?

Many parents and caregivers are concerned about the cost of taking their child to the emergency department or urgent care. To prepare, make sure you always have your child’s insurance card with you. Learn about your benefits and the difference between your co-pay for urgent care and emergency care. Typically, an urgent care visit will be less expensive than a trip to the emergency room.  

If you are unsure about your benefits or need more information, call your insurance company. A representative should be able to explain your coverage, costs and co-pays.  

How to find patient cost estimates for Children’s Hospital Colorado 

You can get cost estimates for certain tests and procedures and check your benefits quickly and securely through MyChart. If you have additional questions, Children's Colorado's patient cost estimate specialists may be able to help. Learn more about patient cost estimates and how to contact our team.  

For more information about Children’s Colorado’s billing and payment options, as well as the insurance plans we accept, refer to our frequently asked questions. 

Get care now

We’re here to help in the heat of the moment. Our pediatric emergency rooms are open 24/7 to provide expert care for your child when they’re facing a serious illness or injury. We also offer virtual and in-person urgent care services at locations throughout the Denver area.

Virtual urgent care

Seven days a week: 2 to 10 p.m. MT 

Our pediatric experts are here when you need them. Through our virtual urgent care services, you can meet with one of our pediatric experts from the comfort and privacy of your home.  

Make a virtual appointment

Learn more