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911 warning

When to Call Your Doctor

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Parent Responses to Illness and Injury

One of the purposes of these guidelines is to help you determine how sick your child is. Then it is time to make a decision and act. By reading the When to Call Your Doctor questions and using your common sense, you should be able to fit your child into one of the five following When to Call Your Doctor categories:

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance)

  • Definition: Your child may have a life-threatening emergency

  • Action: Immediately call 911 or your Emergency Medical Response system.

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day)

  • Definition: Your child may have a non-life-threatening emergency or urgent condition

  • Action: Call your child's doctor immediately. If you can't reach your doctor within 60 minutes, go to the nearest emergency room by car. If you don't have a doctor, go to the ER now.

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9am and 4pm)

  • Definition: Your child probably has a nonurgent illness that may require a specific test (such as a throat culture) or an antibiotic (such as for an ear infection). Your child may need to be seen, but it can safely wait for up to 24 hours.

  • Action: 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 between 9 AM and 4 PM on any day of the week (including weekends and holidays) for assistance. If you don't have a doctor, go to an urgent care center or ER within the next 24 hours.

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours

  • Definition: Your child has a nonurgent symptom or illness that has lasted longer than expected (such as a persistent cough or localized rash) but usually carries no risk of complications. Your child may need to be seen in the office but can safely wait a few days if it's the weekend or a holiday.

  • Action: If the office is open, call now. Otherwise, call during scheduled weekday office hours on Monday - Friday. (This category therefore excludes weekends and holidays.) If you don't have a doctor, choose a doctor and make an appointment to be seen within the next 3 days.

Parent Care at Home

  • Definition: Your child probably has a mild illness that's usually self-limited or harmless.

  • Action: Your child can be safely cared for by you at home. Follow the detailed home care advice that's provided in each guideline. Call your doctor if your child's condition becomes worse.


If you think that your child is having a medical emergency, call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!

And 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: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker

© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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