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
  • Injury 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

Urgent care does not require an appointment; walk-ins are welcome. However, you can call ahead to check the wait time and schedule an appointment if you choose.

When Express Care Is the Right Place

You have forgotten about the physical your child needs for summer camp. Or you have an ear ache, cough or cold, but you can't get to your primary care provider's office. 

Many common illnesses and injuries that are not urgent (do not require medical care within 24 hours) or life- or limb-threatening can be treated at our Express Care clinics.

Express Care is a new service at UC San Diego Health that offers convenient health care on a walk-in basis, similar to "minute clinics." 

Our experienced nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat a wide range of common health conditions, such as colds, ear aches and sore throats. They also offer wellness services such as flu vaccinations, blood tests and school physicals. Express Care is a convenient solution for people with uncomplicated health care needs on the go. Learn more about Express Care.

Emergency Room Locations

Urgent Care Locations

Express Care Locations