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

Ambassadors get to experience events like Family Fun Day. Photo courtesy of Texas Children's Hospital

For the last 10 years, a special group of Houstonians have been walking the walk when it comes to helping one of the city's most revered institutions and changing lives every day.

Ambassadors for Texas Children's Hospital have been supporting patients through philanthropic donations and active engagement, and now you can, too.

The program has three goals: compassion, philanthropy, and advocacy. Just as Texas Children's strives to provide children and women with the best possible care, Ambassadors gain firsthand experience of the hospital's compassionate spirit and work tirelessly to embody this commitment in their actions.

They have given millions of dollars to help meet the hospital's needs, providing support where it will have the greatest impact, as well as standing and speaking up for patients through their own contributions and enlisting others in the cause.

Ambassadors also have the opportunity to attend exclusive, behind-the-scenes educational and social events to learn more about the patients they serve. This includes gatherings like Ambassadors On Call, which can range from luncheons that feature special guest lecturers and renowned health experts to question-and-answer sessions with leading scientists and physicians to behind-the-scenes tours of operating rooms and research facilities.

Family Fun Day is another special event for Ambassadors. This annual "party with a purpose" is a family-focused event where Ambassadors celebrate their work on behalf of Texas Children's. The day is filled with unique activities and lots of opportunities to meet new friends and spend time with old ones. To teach the next generation about philanthropy, the price of admission is one donated book.

To celebrate the successes of the year, Ambassadors gather at a member's home to share the spirit of the season. The holiday party also includes the presentation of the group's annual check to Texas Children's and the announcement of the coming year's philanthropic focus.

Ambassadors enjoy access to the hospital's navigation line services for assistance with referrals, appointments, and health and safety information for children — an invaluable resource for parents and grandparents alike.

For more information about becoming an Ambassador, visit texaschildrens.org/ambassadors or call 832-824-6900.

The holiday party includes the presentation of the group's annual check to the hospital. Photo courtesy of Texas Children's Hospital

With Ambassadors On Call, you gain access to behind-the-scenes tours and guest lecturers. Photo courtesy of Texas Children's Hospital