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

 
 

Both Houston and the Lone Star State as a whole have been named top places to start a business. Photo via Getty Images

When it comes to corporate giants, the Houston area has plenty to brag about: It’s home to the headquarters of two dozen Fortune 500 companies.

However, Houston can also boast that it’s one of the best U.S. metro areas to launch a business. Houston ranks ninth on a new list from the 42Floors real estate website of the top spots for new entrepreneurs. Austin lands at No. 3 on the list, Dallas appears at No. 8, and San Antonio winds up at No. 19. Las Vegas ranks first.

The website judged metro areas based on factors reflecting business opportunity and affordability.

“Starting out in a business-friendly environment, being able to afford a small office, or even having access to the right consulting services and networking opportunities can all contribute to your new business’s chances for success,” 42Floors says.

Among the factors favoring Houston are:

  • A cost of living on par with the national average, and lower than Austin’s and Dallas’ averages.
  • Average annual labor costs of $45,750 per employee, below the figures for Austin and Dallas.

Referring to Houston, Austin, and Dallas, 42Floors says: “As you might expect, each metro in the Texas trio offered a different context in which different businesses could thrive. For this reason, entrepreneurs will need to weigh the importance of affordability and opportunity for their respective business ideas.”

The presence of Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio in the top 20 of the 42Floors study underscores the Lone Star State’s standing as a top state for startups.

Job search platform Lensa recently ranked Texas as the best state to launch a startup. To developing its ranking, Lensa examined factors such as volume of new-business applications, corporate tax rates, and cost of living.

Texas earned a 7.09 out of 10 on Lensa’s scale. Helping driving that score was the 492,243 new-business applications filed in the past year in Texas, beating all other states except California and Florida. The application number “demonstrates just how many ambitious entrepreneurs there are in Texas,” Lensa says.

In addition, Texas lands at No. 2 among the top 10 startup states for the lowest corporate tax rate, at 3.95 percent, and at No. 3 among the top 10 startup states for the lowest cost of living.

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