ER, Urgent Care or Express Care: Where Should I Go?

Your throat is sore, you have a low fever, and a rash has broken out on your body. You don't think waiting for an appointment to see your primary care doctor is wise. Where do you go?

You could go to either Urgent Care or Express Care. The ER is for medical emergencies. If you go to the ER, you may wait a long time for the people with more critical medical situations to be seen first. Your insurance co-pay may be higher, too.

You can save time and money by understanding the different levels of care and services offered at the ER, Urgent Care and Express Care.

When the ER Is the Right Place

Ambulence imageThe ER is the place to go for serious medical emergencies. Emergency rooms are located within a hospital setting and are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means patients may receive the highest level of care with advanced medical specialists.

If you think you're in a life-threatening situation, call 9-1-1.

The following symptoms are medical emergencies and should be treated in an emergency room:

  • 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.

When Urgent Care Is the Right Place

Conditions that require medical care within 24 hours, but are not life- or limb-threatening, are handled at urgent care. Diagnostic X-ray and lab services are available. Examples of conditions treated at urgent care locations:

    Finger bandage
  • 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 headaces
  • Dehydration
  • Vaccinations

Urgent care does not require an appointment; walk-ins are welcome. However, you can check wait times and save your spot online.

When Express Care Is the Right Place

Express Care is a good option for both walk-in wellness services (such as sports physicals or school health screenings) or common illnesses and injuries.

Our experienced nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat a wide range of common health care needs, such as colds, ear aches and sore throats. See a full list of conditions treated and services offered at our Express Care clinics in downtown or Encinitas.

Emergency Room Locations

Urgent Care Locations

Express Care Locations

Save Your Spot Online

See a map with wait times at urgent care and express care locations — and save your spot online