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What's the Difference Between Express Care, Urgent Care and the ER?

When you’re dealing with an injury or illness — whether it’s minor or critical — and want help right away at a walk-in facility, UC San Diego Health has three options for you: Express Care, Urgent Care and ER. If you think you're in a life-threatening situation, call 911.

When to Go to Express Care

Minor health issues: When you have a common illness or injury, or face a relatively minor situation that can’t wait for an appointment with a primary care provider.

Prompt wellness services: When you want same-day wellness services, such as flu shots or sports physicals.

Save time: Wait times usually shorter than at ER or Urgent Care.

Note: Express Care clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. X-ray services are available at some locations, but there are no lab services. Co-pays are typically the same as a clinic appointment.

Conditions Treated and Services Offered at Express Care

Symptoms and Conditions Treated in Patients 6 months and older

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Coughs and colds
  • COVID-19 symptoms
  • Earaches and ear infections
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Fever or flu-like symptoms
  • Sore throat or strep throat
  • Sinus infections
  • Minor burns, cuts and sprains
  • Bladder or urinary tract infections
  • Skin infections
  • Simple fractures, sprains and strains

Walk-In Wellness Services

  • Flu vaccinations
  • Blood pressure checks
  • Sports physicals or health screenings for camp or school for children ages 6 and above
  • EpiPen prescriptions
  • STI testing and treatment
  • Tuberculosis (TB) testing (Quantiferon (blood) testing only)
  • Gynecology needs, including birth control prescriptions and pregnancy testing
  • X-ray services are available at two San Diego County locations: Eastlake / Chula Vista and Encinitas.


When to Go to Urgent Care

Non-emergency health problems: When you face a condition that is not life- or limb-threatening, but still requires prompt care within 24 hours.

X-ray and lab services: When you may need diagnostic X-ray and lab services.

Access to physicians: When it's important to have a physician available on site.

Note: Co-pays at Urgent Care clinics are often lower than those for an ER visit but may be higher than a regular clinic visit.

Conditions Treated at Urgent Care

  • Vomiting
  • Painful urination
  • Strains and sprains
  • Accidents and falls
  • Minor trauma (such as a broken finger)
  • Severe sore throat
  • Fever and flu
  • Infections and skin rashes
  • Cut that requires stitches
  • Moderate back problems
  • Recurrent headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Vaccinations


When to Go to ER / Emergency Care

Emergencies: When you have a major, life-threatening injury or a very severe illness that requires immediate attention.

Full array of services: When access to on-site surgical, diagnostic and lab services is important to you.

Access to specialists: When it's important to be seen by an emergency medicine doctor or a specialist.

Note: Co-pays are typically higher for ER services and wait times may be longer.

Conditions and Illnesses Treated in ER

  • Sudden and severe head pain
  • Paralysis
  • Shortness of breath
  • Disorientation and inability to speak
  • Vision loss
  • Loss of consciousness
  • High fever
  • Chest pain
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
  • Persistent bleeding
  • Severe injuries, including those to the head or eyes
  • Severe burn
  • Severe heart palpitations
  • Deep wound that needs stitches
  • Rapid testicular inflammation and pain
  • High fever in newborn baby
  • Compound fracture
  • Poisoning
  • Seizure
  • Gunshot or knife wound

Traumatic Injury

Trauma injuries that are life-threatening, such as a motor vehicle collision or gunshot wound, are treated in our Level 1 Trauma Center.