Choosing urgent care

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Are you prepared for a non-emergency?

Visit an urgent care center for non-emergency injuries and illnesses

If you’re experiencing an illness or injury that is serious, but not an emergency, consider visiting an urgent care center to receive care that is typically faster and costs less than an emergency room visit.

Urgent care centers provide many of the same basic medical services as a doctor's office, often with extended hours for delivering services and lower out-of-pocket costs. Staffed with qualified professionals, urgent care centers are ideal for non-emergency care when your doctor is not available:

Urgent Care Centers for non-emergency care

  • Cough, sore throat, respiratory infections
  • Earaches
  • Back pain, body aches
  • Burning with urination
  • Colds, sinus infections
  • Allergies
  • Eye irritation, swelling or pain
  • Sprains, muscle strains
  • Rashes, minor cuts, scrapes
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Animal bites

Emergency rooms for life threatening emergencies 

  • Any life-threatening or disabling condition
  • Injury, with loss of consciousness or fainting
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Sudden numbness of limbs or face, difficulty speaking
  • Severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Sudden, severe chest pain or pressure
  • Major injuries, vehicle accidents, stab wounds
  • Poisoning
  • Sudden, severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting blood

If you feel you are experiencing an emergency, call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.

Urgent care centers can save you time and money

Urgent care centers can offer you care at lower out-of-pocket costs for non-emergency conditions and the wait is typically less than an hour* while the average wait time at a California ER is about 4 hours and 34 minutes†.

Urgent care centers and your health plan

It’s always a good idea to know where your local urgent care center is before you need it.

HMO plan members:

  • Call your doctor's office or dedicated Blue Shield Member Services representative, to help you find the closest affiliated urgent care center you can visit. The Blue Shield Member Services phone number can be found on the back of your Blue Shield member ID card.
  • If you seek care at an urgent care center that is not affiliated with your doctor’s medical group or Independent Practice Association (IPA), your HMO plan may not cover the services you receive, so be sure to get an authorization from your doctor's office before seeking care.

PPO plan members:

  • Visit or call your dedicated Member Services representative to locate a local urgent care center within the Blue Shield PPO network. The Blue Shield Member Services phone number can be found on the back of your Blue Shield member ID card.
  • If you visit an urgent care center that is not in the network, you will generally pay more than you would at a preferred facility.

POS plan members:

  • POS members have the choice of accessing care at the HMO (level 1) or PPO (level 2) level.

For a detailed description of coverage benefits and limitations, please consult your health plan's Evidence of Coverage or Certificate of Insurance/Policy.

*Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Alerts (posted November 18, 2009, and reviewed January 2011), Urgent Care or the ER - Which is the Right Choice? Retrieved May 31, 2011,

†2010 Emergency Department Pulse Report from American College of Emergency Physicians and Press Ganey.

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© California Physicians' Service DBA Blue Shield of California 1999-2024. All rights reserved. California Physicians’ Service DBA Blue Shield of California is an independent member of the Blue Shield Association. Health insurance products are offered by Blue Shield of California Life & Health Insurance Company. Health plans are offered by Blue Shield of California.