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Urgent Care Centers Seek to Provide Quality, Affordable and Convenient Care

CareWell Urgent Care has opened its newest center on Route 114 in Peabody and is one of just a handful of urgent care facilities on the North Shore.

The administrators behind CareWell Urgent Care say their business model fills an emerging niche as healthcare reform sweeps through the nation as millions more people get insured and seek quality affordable care at their own convenience.

Instead of scheduling an appointment with your primary care physician or waiting for hours in a hospital emergency room with a bad cut or the flu, you can just drop in to a neighborhood healthcare center for treatment. It's also a much cheaper option than the ER.

CareWell opened the doors at its new Peabody center on Thursday, adding one more to a small collection of urgent care facilities spread across Massachusetts, according to Dr. Jack Cornwell, CareWell's medical director in the Bay State.

He said that while most people in Massachusetts do have health insurance, cost and convenient care are the two biggest issues.

Cornwell, who directed the Morton Hospital ER in Taunton prior to joining CareWell, said it would cost about $300 for three stitches at one of the urgent care centers compared to at least $2,000 at an ER. The patient also only pays a $30 co-pay versus $150 or so for a trip to the ER.

The center at 229 Andover St. is CareWell's eighth location and is open seven days a week, 12 hours a day (8 a.m. - 8 p.m.) with board-certified staff to treat everything from earaches and colds to non-life-threatening wounds or injuries and conduct routine physical exams.

No appointments are necessary. CareWell accepts all major insurance plans and Medicare.

The Peabody center also includes an on-site lab, x-ray facilities and can dispense medications. There are six private exam rooms, a minor procedure room and the x-ray room in addition to reception and waiting areas.

If you need a CT scan or an MRI, however, you need to go to the hospital.

Cornwell said they're not competing with PCPs or hospitals -- they're licensed by the state Department of Public Health to treat episodic ailments and minor injuries.

He said CareWell doctors aren't licensed, for instance, to treat diabetes or hypertension. Similarly, someone experiencing a heart attack, stroke or excessive bleeding should go to the ER.

"We want to work as an extension of primary care physicians [and hospitals]," he said. He noted the typical patient at CareWell might spend 45-50 minutes total "door-to-door" and most of that time is to fill out paperwork.

Cornwell said tough regulations from the state DPH have deterred urgent care companies from entering Massachusetts in the past, but now with primary care physicians in particular struggling to comply with various provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, there's a growing need to be met.

One example, he said, is that most PCPs are "wrestling" with converting to electronic records systems. CareWell is setup to easily store records and e-transfer as needed to specialists, PCPs or other care providers.

On the North Shore, the Mass. General Outpatient Center in Danvers does include an urgent care center and there are also small community health centers in Peabody, Salem and Lynn.

Lahey Health also provides urgent care at its Burlington Hospital, but that's only if a patient can't make an appointment that day with a PCP.

At the new Peabody center, there is one doctor, a nurse and a radiology technician on staff to see about 30 patients a day. The facility can handle as many as 100 patients daily and Cornwell said staff would be added as the number of patients grew.

CareWell, which is based in Quincy, opened its first center in South Dennis last year and then expanded to Warwick, R.I. and five more locations in Massachusetts.

In addition to Peabody, two more centers are slated to open soon (in 2014) in Cambridge and Arlington.

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