For health emergencies, how do you choose between an emergency department (ER), urgent care or express care?

If you or a loved one has ever had an emergency or urgent health situation — a broken bone, a sprained ankle, pink eye — you may have wondered where to go for treatment. Should you go to a hospital emergency room, an urgent care center or an express care center? What are the differences among these facilities?

These lists can help you decide when you have a true medical emergency that requires an emergency room visit, and when you can safely go to an urgent care or express care center.

The hospital emergency department (ER)

Hospital emergency departments treat all emergency situations, but are especially prepared to treat the most serious injuries and medical situations, including the following:

Some hospital emergency rooms are also equipped to provide trauma care for people with extremely serious injuries, such as those who have a gunshot wound or who have been in a car accident.

Urgent care center

The urgent care center is designed to handle less serious illnesses and medical situations. These are conditions that are not life-threatening but should be treated within 24 hours. These include:

Express care center

Express care centers provide care for relatively minor conditions, such as:

Urgent care and express care centers are walk-in facilities, which means that you don’t need to make an appointment. They are less costly than a hospital emergency room visit, and you can usually be seen more quickly than you would be in an emergency room.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/29/2021.


  • American College of Emergency Physicians. Know When to Go. ( Accessed 4/30/2021.
  • American College of Emergency Physicians. Emergency Care vs. Urgent Care: What’s the Difference? ( Accessed 4/30/2021.
  • American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine. What is Urgent Care Medicine? ( Accessed 4/30/2021.

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