When to Call Your Doctor... Your Choice, Your Decision
One purpose of these Care Guides is to help you decide how sick your child is. Then it is time for you to make a decision and act. Read the When to Call screen and use common sense to choose one of the five main When to Call your doctor choices:
Call 911 Now (you may need an ambulance)
- What This Means: Your child may have a life-threatening emergency.
- What You Should Do: Call 911 right NOW or your emergency ambulance service.
Call Doctor Now or Go to ER
- What This Means: You child may have an emergency or urgent condition.
- What You Should Do: Call your doctor right away. If you can't reach your doctor within 30-60 minutes, take your child to the nearest emergency room by car. If you don't have a doctor, go to the ER now.
Call Doctor Within 24 Hours
- What This Means: Your child probably has an illness that needs testing or treatment. He or she may need a test (such as a throat culture) or an antibiotic (such as for an ear infection). He or she may need to be seen by a doctor. But you should be able to safely wait until tomorrow.
- What You Should Do: If the office is open, call now. If the office is closed now, but will be open within 24 hours, call when it opens. If the office won't be open within the next 24 hours, call your doctor's answering service. You can call the answering service from 9 AM to 4 PM on any day of the week. This includes weekends and holidays. If your child doesn't have a doctor, go to an urgent care center or ER within the next 24 hours.
Call Doctor During Weekday
- What This Means: Your child probably has a non-urgent symptom or illness. It may be lasting longer than expected (such as a cough or rash). But usually there is no risk of complications. Your child may need to be seen in the office by the doctor. It is generally safe to wait a few days to do so if it's the weekend or a holiday.
- What You Should Do: If the office is open, call now. If it is closed, call during scheduled weekday office hours on Monday - Friday. If you don't have a doctor, choose a doctor and call their office. Make an appointment to be seen within the next 3 days.
Self Care at Home
- What This Means: Your child probably has a mild illness and does not need to see a doctor. These illnesses are usually harmless and get better without medical care.
- What You Should Do: Follow the care advice found in each guideline. Call your doctor if your child gets worse.
If you think that your child is having a medical emergency, call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!
When in doubt, call your doctor NOW or go to the closest emergency department.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Content Set: Child Symptom Checker
Child Symptom Checker