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Consumer guide for urgent care

Consumers seeking medical care at night, on weekends, or without an appointment have more choices. But it’s important to understand providers’ limitations and costs.

Limited-service clinics There are 48 limited-service clinics in Massachusetts, all MinuteClinics located inside CVS stores. Nurse practitioners provide care.

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They cannot treat children under age 2, and additional age restrictions apply to specific services. The clinics cannot act as primary care providers.

Nurse practitioners diagnose, treat, and write prescriptions for common illnesses such as strep throat, pink eye, poison ivy, and respiratory infections; administer vaccinations for flu, pneumonia, pertussis, and hepatitis; treat minor cuts, burns, and sprains; and remove stitches and staples.

A typical charge is $79 or $89. Many health insurers cover visits.

Urgent care centers There are now dozens of urgent care centers in the state, owned by private companies, physicians, and hospitals. Doctors — trained in emergency medicine, family practice, or internal medicine — and nurses care for patients.

They treat illnesses that require immediate attention but are not life-threatening, including cuts that require stitches, minor broken bones, asthma, dehydration, pneumonia, bladder infections, and migraines. Unlike many small physician practices, the clinics have X-ray machines and laboratories, and can do routine blood work.

An average charge is $125 to $150. But most insurers cover the visits, although many Medicaid plans do not yet.

Hospital emergency departments Massachusetts hospitals run 74 emergency departments. Emergency medicine doctors and nurses provide care, with help from specialists including cardiologists, neurologists, and trauma surgeons.

They can treat any illness or injury that limited-service and urgent care clinics treat, but specialize in caring for patients with life-threatening emergencies such as heart attack, stroke, and serious trauma from car accidents and violence.

ER visits are covered by health insurers, but patient copayments range from $50 to $200, generally much higher than copayments for treatment at a clinic.

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.
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