In a Nutshell: When faced with a non-life-threatening injury or illness, a patient’s most cost-effective choice for treatment is often an urgent care facility — not an ER. Staff at Next Level Urgent Care can deliver the appropriate level of care or direct patients to another facility at no additional cost. Next Level Urgent Care can also help patients understand their needs, which may allow them to avoid long-term debt.
When children are sick or injured, parents want them to receive the necessary care as quickly as possible. Sometimes, it seems like the only option is an expensive visit to the emergency room (ER). But those visits may result in medical debt that lasts much longer than the initial ailment takes to heal.
Dr. Juliet Breeze, M.D. found herself in that situation when her son was injured over the weekend. She knew the problem couldn’t wait until the pediatrician’s office opened on Monday, so she went to a freestanding ER for treatment.
The visit was quick and easy, and she and her son left with a simple prescription. But then the bill came for a few thousand dollars.
“She very quickly thought, ‘This is ridiculous, we need a better solution in the Houston area,’” said Karen Rakers, M.D., Chief Medical Officer Next Level Urgent Care. Next Level Urgent Care. “And she knew she could provide that.”
Dr. Breeze founded Next Level Urgent Care to solve the pressing need for quality, cost-effective healthcare for non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Its facilities offer patients necessary care that doesn’t burden them with medical debt or negatively affect their credit scores because they can’t pay out of pocket.
“We’re founded on providing high-quality, affordable health care,” Rakers said. “That’s the mission, and that’s what we are trying to do for individuals and the community. We also help employers with healthcare solutions.”
An ER is often people’s first stop for urgent care, and it’s an appropriate choice if they or a loved one are suffering life-threatening illness or injury. But it’s not an optimal choice for less-severe health problems that still require immediate attention, which is where Next Level Urgent Care can help.
Urgent Care Offers a Cost-Effective Alternative to the ER
Caring for non-critical patients in an ER may hamper a hospital’s ability to attend to those who need treatment for life-threatening conditions. It may also incur unnecessary costs and potentially crippling debt for non-critical patients.
“People don’t often know where to go,” Rakers said. “That was a big issue for us when we started eight years ago. I think more people understand that urgent care is an option for them. We can take care of a lot, including X-rays, broken bones, stitches, or coughs, colds, and the flu.”
The first step for the Next Level Urgent Care team is determining whether a patient needs emergency services. If they do, the staff will arrange for them to get to an ER at no charge.
Part of the care facility’s mission is to get people the right type of care, and it doesn’t even recommend its own services if a patient doesn’t need them. If someone doesn’t require urgent or emergency care, Next Level Urgent care will refer them to a more cost-effective alternative.
“We want them to call us first, and we have somebody available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. who can help them figure that out,” Rakers said.
Emergency Care Can Incur Hidden Costs
Determining the right level of care is just as important as finding a suitable facility that provides it. Urgent care facilities are common in cities and towns throughout the United States, but they can easily be confused with more expensive freestanding ERs.
“Freestanding ERs often times look very much like an urgent care. They are not attached to the hospital and are often in retail spaces,” said Rakers. “Often times even though you have insurance the freestanding facility is out of network so you pay out of network prices.”
Transit is another cost-intensive issue to watch out for when visiting a freestanding ER. If a patient needs emergency care, chances are they’ll need to be admitted to a hospital, which incurs another set of fees.
“We tend not to advise freestanding ERs because patients requiring emergency care are better served to go to a ER attached to a hospital in the event they need to be admitted,” Rakers said. “That’s where you’re going to end up getting admitted if you have surgery or any other services that you need for a potentially life-threatening issue.”
If freestanding ERs determine that a patient needs emergency surgery, they will arrange transportation to a hospital environment. And that will add to the cost.
Testing and Vaccination Prevent COVID-19 Emergencies
COVID-19 cases, or suspicions of infection, have sent many people to ERs since early 2020. But they have also prevented many people from going to the ER. Those suffering from unrelated health issues may be concerned about contracting COVID-19 and avoid seeking urgent or emergency care.
Next Level Urgent Care’s proactive research and safety protocols in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic conveyed its concern for public health, wellness, and safety. In the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, Next Level launched a research department to participate in trials, and it also began participating early on in COVID-19 testing.
“We started early,” Rakers said. “We were able to work through all of that quickly. We shifted and changed almost daily. We worked through challenges related to COVID-19 testing very quickly and were able to offer our patients testing options early in the pandemic.”
Next Level now boasts a comprehensive battery of tests, including saliva PCR, nasal swab PCR, antibody testing, and rapid testing. It also provides access to vaccines and can administer them to the public.
We were notified in December of 2020 that we would receive an allocation of vaccines. They arrived and within 24 hours we had set up a vaccine clinic and began administering them on Dec 24th,” Rakers said. “We’ve given over 30,000 of the doses allocated to us. We have also partnered with local health departments and other organizations to be the administrator of their vaccines.
Regular Checkups and Screenings Promote Physical and Financial Wellness
Urgent and emergency care facilities provide medical attention when it is needed most. Outside of accidents, many emergencies can be prevented through regular checkups and health screenings.
“Make sure you take care of things and identify things early on versus getting that diagnosis later when your health is more at risk,” Rakers said.
Early identification of serious conditions, including cancer, can improve long-term prognosis, survivability, and the odds of effective treatment and recovery. Early-stage treatments also tend to be less costly than fighting the same diseases in their later stages.
“People don’t think about that as being a cost saver because they’re trying to pay for something now that isn’t going to save them money until years down the road,” Rakers said.
Preventive care is an investment in physical health that can also help someone financially. It represents a cost-effective and healthy alternative to treating issues as they arise. However, accidents happen, and when they do, urgent care can provide a cheaper option than emergency treatment for non-life-threatening conditions.
Patients can avoid debt and financial strain by knowing the best options in a given situation.