HIGH CARE, LOW COST

These innovative Houston clinics are taking urgent care to the next level

Next Level employs licensed technicians and physicians. Photo courtesy of Next Level Urgent Care

When Houston physician Juliet Breeze took her son to the emergency room on a weekend, she was shocked at how expensive the treatment ended up being.

"We got excellent care, but an unreasonably high bill to go with it," she says. "From my experience, I knew the care we received actually cost a fraction of what we were charged. I knew that if I had made this costly healthcare mistake as a doctor and business person, others were probably getting 'stung' too."

Having previously managed a multi-location orthopedic practice called Richmond Bone & Joint Clinic and been a family practice doctor before that, Dr. Breeze had seen first-hand the increased cost of medical care provided at "hospital pricing."

She knew then that she wanted to find some way to be part of the solution for escalating costs in healthcare, so in 2013 Dr. Breeze founded Next Level Urgent Care.

The clinics provide an excellent alternative for the treatment of non-life-threatening health conditions. The services are faster and, on average, five to 10 times less expensive than a visit to the emergency room. They accept all major insurance carriers, including Medicare and Medicaid, and a typical copay costs only $25-$75, compared to $150-$500 at an emergency room.

There are 15 convenient locations throughout the Houston area that are open from 9 am-9 pm, seven days per week. The clinics in Champions, Cinco Ranch, Copperfield, Long Meadow, Meyerland, Sienna Plantation, and Sugar Land clinics all open early at 7 am. The only time the clinics are closed is on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

"With more and more parents working, a thing like getting a sick or injured kid to the doctor before they close for the day, and what to do about care on the weekends, is a real issue," says Dr. Breeze. "For this reason, emergency rooms have become more popular for health problems that aren't true emergencies. It has become such a trend for patients to use ERs that many insurances have started shifting the cost of this kind of healthcare to the patients themselves."

She even points out that "most carriers charge much higher copays and deductibles for ER than for urgent care or an office visit these days."

But what about retail clinics, often located in drugstores and groceries? They're a partial answer to the problem, admits Dr. Breeze, but they lack vital equipment like X-ray rooms and licensed technicians, along with services such as stitches, splinting, and IV fluids.

Besides providing incredible savings to patients, Dr. Breeze found that she and her team could help address employer healthcare needs as well. They quickly became skilled at efficiently handling work injuries, pre-employment physical examinations, and other services that employers required for their staff. As part of this evolution, in 2015, Next Level was selected by the County of Fort Bend to manage a cost-free clinic for its employees. Their success in Fort Bend led to being selected by Montgomery County, Brazoria County, and the Houston Independent School District to provide onsite medical care on their campuses as well.

This month, Next Level launched its first CareXtend Clinic for the Goose Creek ISD, which combines the benefits of onsite care (like reduced lost time from work and increased access) with the cost savings of virtual medicine.

CareXtend Clinics are single-room clinics staffed with a "Care Concierge" who can assist the off-site medical providers during the physical examination utilizing state-of-the-art digital diagnostic equipment. To cut down on cost, the medical provider joins the visit by video link but unlike traditional telemedicine, the visits include vital signs, complete physical examinations, lab draws, and other routine in-office testing.

Next Level Urgent Care has several new projects launching this year, including selling pre-paid bundled savings plans to individuals and employers. These cards can be shared with friends and family for deep savings on the cash-pay pricing and are perfect for those without insurance or with very high deductible plans.

They have also begun quoting subscription plans for unlimited urgent care services to employers outside of traditional insurance plans. This model allows employers to pay a flat rate directly to cover acute care for their employees. Capping employer costs while encouraging the use of urgent care and reducing the out-of-pocket expense for the employees are the main benefits of this exciting new model. The subscription plans are especially attractive now that Next Level has such a large footprint in the Greater Houston Area.

"Next Level is a woman-owned, locally based business," says Dr. Breeze. "Who better to treat Houstonians than us?"

Dr. Juliet Breeze founded Next Level in 2013. Photo courtesy of Next Level Urgent Care

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Building Houston

 
 

According to a new report, Houston's workforce isn't among the happiest in the nation. Photo via Getty Images

Call it the Bayou City Blues. A report from job website Lensa ranks Houston third among the U.S. cities with the unhappiest workers.

The report looks at four factors — vacation days taken, hours worked per week, average pay, and overall happiness — to determine the happiest and unhappiest cities for U.S. workers.

Lensa examined data for 30 major cities, including Dallas and San Antonio. Dallas appears at the top of the list of the cities with the unhappiest workers, and San Antonio lands at No. 8.

Minneapolis ranks first among the cities with the happiest workers.

Here's how Houston fared in the four ranking categories:

  • 16.6 million unused vacation days per year.
  • 40.1 average hours worked per week.
  • Median annual pay of $32,251.
  • Happiness score of out of 50.83.

Dallas had 19.4 million unused vacation days per year, 40.5 average hours worked per week, median annual pay of $34,479, and a happiness score of 53.3 out of 100.

Meanwhile, San Antonio had 5.7 million unused vacation days per year, 39.2 average hours worked per week, median annual pay of $25,894, and a happiness score of 48.61.

Texas tops Lensa's list of the states with the unhappiest workers.

"While the Lone Star State had a decent happiness score of 52.56 out of 100, it scored poorly on each of the other factors, with Texans allowing an incredible 67.1 million earned vacation days go to waste over the course of a year," Lensa says.

In terms of general happiness, Houston shows up at No. 123 on WalletHub's most recent list of the happiest U.S. cities. Dallas takes the No. 104 spot, and San Antonio lands at No. 141. Fremont, California, grabs the No. 1 ranking.

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