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

 
 

Sieve Health is an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials. Photo via Getty Images

On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

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