It’s late in the day, and you have a tickle in your throat, or a tweaked knee, maybe a bad case of poison ivy. Perhaps you need a physical for work, or your kid needs one for camp or school.

Now what do you do?

If you can’t get a quick appointment with your primary care doctor, and you don’t want to make an expensive, after-hours trip to the emergency room, there’s a newer alternative on the North Shore that’s becoming increasingly popular: walking into the nearest urgent care clinic.

While such clinics are popular in other parts of the country, their presence is just now expanding locally. The newest entry on the North Shore, AFC Urgent Care, opened a clinic at 50 Dodge St. in Beverly on Dec. 5, in the former location of Country Curtains at a small shopping plaza along Route 1A. 

AFC Urgent Care says it has 18 clinics in the Bay State, and treats 250,000 patients a year in Massachusetts. The Birmingham, Alabama-based company, which acquired Doctors Express in 2013, plans to open another franchise in Vinnin Square in Swampscott in six months.

“The idea being that you can walk in here without an appointment, and you can present your insurance card and see a doctor,” said Zaka Shafiq, president of AFC Urgent Care in Beverly.

The Beverly clinic has a large waiting room, expansive nursing station, a lab, exam rooms, diagnostic equipment and pediatric rooms for small children. There are four physicians and two nurse practitioners, all trained in emergency medicine.

Urgent care clinics aim to provide a convenient, walk-in or same-day appointment when a patient does not need life-saving emergency care, such as for a heart attack, stroke or excessive bleeding.

Many urgent cares are located in easy-to-get-to locations, such as strip malls or shopping centers, not buried within large medical centers. They typically see children ages 6 months and up. These clinics also have fully licensed doctors and the ability to do lab tests and X-rays on site.

While hours vary, the clinics are typically open about 12 hours a day, seven days a week. And for insurance purposes, these visits are treated as an office visit, instead of a more costly emergency room visit.

Popping up

“They are definitely popping up,” said Steven Kapfhammer, president and COO of North Shore Physicians Group, which opened North Shore Urgent Care at the Mass General/North Shore Medical Center in Danvers in the fall of 2013. The clinic has seen a 7 percent, year-over-year increase in the number of patients since it opened, he said.

In fiscal 2014, North Shore Urgent Care handled 16,000 visits. In the following year, visits rose to 20,500, and last year, there were 22,000 visits. The clinic averages about 1,800 visits a month, Kapfhammer said.

Family Doctors, on Route 1A in Swampscott, recently completed a multi-million-dollar expansion of its building. It offers urgent care, including walk-in and same-day appointment hours on Saturday and Sunday, and digital x-ray capabilities.

Another entry into the local urgent care market came in December 2013 when CareWell Urgent Care opened on Route 114 in Peabody. It’s part of a growing chain of 17 urgent care clinics in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. On the North Shore, CareWell is affiliated with Lahey Health, the parent company of Beverly and Addison Gilbert hospitals and Lahey Medical Center in Peabody.

“We are in the consumer business,” said Shaun Ginter,  president and CEO of CareWell Urgent Care, and a member of the Urgent Care Association of America’s board of directors.

At CareWell, Ginter said, patients can walk in or schedule and appointment online, register on an iPad in the waiting room, be seen by a doctor in under an hour, and have their prescription sent electronically to any pharmacy in the state.

“The Peabody CareWell does well for us and Lahey,” Ginter said, “and we have been well-received and we are busy all the time.”

The newest clinic, AFC Urgent Care in Beverly, is now open seven days a week and can provide a host of non-emergency services: treat broken bones or cases of pneumonia, bronchitis and shingles, for example. They offer consults for those who need immunizations and vaccines to travel, and can perform employment and sports physicals, all without an appointment. 

Dr. Sonia Beauvais, the clinic’s medical director, said the goal is a quick turnaround time, 45 minutes door-to-door. Wait times in an emergency room can average more than three hours, experts said.

“We are here, really to provide care to anyone who doesn’t have an emergency situation,” Beauvais said.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to include the correct first name of Shaun Ginter.

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