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

Technology should enhance your quality of life. Art Wager/Getty Images

Cities across the country are in a race to get smart. Imagine a city where infrastructure and citizens are all interconnected by new technologies. Information about traffic, parking, energy use, city services, flooding, and much more is shared widely in open technology platforms. The possibilities are exciting: Smart Cities will collect and disseminate data in ways that should enhance quality of life, sustainability, and economic growth.

Indeed, a sea change is underway. In the past, the workings of a city were managed by the few — i.e., city planners and government officials. Looking ahead, new technology platforms are now enabling the many — i.e., corporations, nonprofits, and individuals — to share data in real time and significantly influence the workings of the city. It is a new era: the crowdsourcing of data coupled with ubiquitous access to useful information. Very smart.

What is a Smart City?
Deloitte, a leading voice in the development of Smart Cities, notes an evolution is underway. In a recent article, "Forces of Change: Smart Cities," Deloitte defines a Smart City 1.0 as "physical assets networked via sensor technology that generate streams of valuable data from 'smart' parking meters, streetlights, and even trash receptacles." But that's just the start. A Smart City 2.0 builds on the interconnection of the city's physical infrastructure, and adds people into the equation: residents, government and business employees, and visitors (see Deloitte's framework for Smart Cities below). Per Deloitte's article, "Smart City 2.0 focuses on enhancing the citizen experience by operating at the intersection of the 3Ds: data, digital, and human-centered design." The opportunity: leverage the collective knowledge of entire communities.

Houston getting smart
Houston is laser-focused on capturing this opportunity. Last March, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the launch of the Smart City Advisory Council. Amy Chronis, managing partner of Deloitte's Houston office and the chair of the Greater Houston Partnership's (GHP's) Sustainability Advisory Committee, facilitated a workshop with city leaders. Per a GHP article, "the advisory council is charged with engaging community stakeholders, governments, academia and industry to develop a roadmap that will speed the adoption of technology and data-driven practices in the public realm."

Houston's Smart City initiative divides projects into a portfolio of opportunities: transportation, public safety, resiliency and sustainability, and engagement. The scope spans areas such as traffic, security, community life, and flooding. For example, the expanded Houston Intelligent Transportation System (HITS), a network of digital traffic signs, cameras, and more, will "monitor and manage traffic in real-time, improving public transit speed, information sharing and overall reliability." Flood detection sensors and roadway flood warning systems will gather and transmit flood-related data. With increased information, we should experience far fewer surprises on the road.

To move from a Smart City 1.0 to a Smart City 2.0, Houston is tapping into input from a wide swath of the population. In partnership with Microsoft, Houston is using a program "which scrapes data from the internet and social media to recognize trending topics and how they impact citizens' views toward the city" — just one example of giving a new voice to citizens. Also, a 311 chatbot allows citizens to seek city information or request services, while 311 prediction enables the city to better forecast needs and allocate resources smartly. We are headed toward more empowered citizens and a far more responsive city government.

For Houston, the opportunity is particularly large. With a diverse population and large geographic sprawl, Houston is poised to benefit greatly from increased interconnectedness. The city can get more ideas from diverse sources to solve issues, businesses can make smarter investments, residents will secure more ownership of their communities, and visitors will be more well-equipped to enjoy their experiences here. City leadership has grasped the vision. As Mayor Turner stated in a May 2018 address: "We must leap, not stroll into the future. We must sprint, not jog. It will be this city that will be the Smart City of the world."


Graphic courtesy of Deloitte



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