BreatheMD Offers a Direct Care ENT Practice
Mary Talley Bowden
Dr. Mary Talley Bowden, an ENT in Houston, Texas and owner of BreatheMD, credits her unique business model for enabling Covid-19 testing for her patients in the early days of the pandemic. In March 2020, when people were scrambling to find Covid-testing, the only option was to go to the ER. A a result, testing was restricted to those with symptoms and high risk patients. People were reluctant to go the ER for fear of contracting COVID.
Responding to patient demand, Dr. Bowden researched and discovered that LabCorp was the only lab processing Covid-19 tests. Staring on March 14, 2020, she brought patients into her office for testing, using a nasal swab to collect, and sent the specimen to LabCorp for processing. Being a direct care facility, the practice does not have restraints from insurance companies. Because of this, It can charge an upfront fee for the service of testing while running the lab’s fee through the patient’s insurance. Anyone could test for any reason, whether or not they had symptoms.
For the first 1-2 weeks, LabCorp was able to keep up with demand and return results in 3-4 days. The lab became slammed, and patients waited 2 weeks or longer to get their results. Test supplies ran out across the country. Dr. Bowden pivoted to another collection method, nasopharyngeal lavage – effective but dangerous due to high patient contact. Finally, Dr Bowden made Covid-testing accessible to her patients. Safety concerns and slow turnaround time were still hurdles that were present.
An Experienced Lab Creates a Safe Test with a Fast Turnaround Time
In April 2020, MicrogenDX, a lab dedicated entirely to antimicrobial detection since 2010, developed and validated a rRT-PCR test for COVID-19. This test used saliva as the collection source. Dr. Bowden had already been working with MicrogenDX for patients with chronic sinusitis. She knew they had honest and transparent billing practices, charging a flat free and never balance-billing patients. Further, their method of collection – saliva – allowed contact free testing with no patient discomfort. Results got delivered the evening following the test. This was far sooner than what other PCR labs were able to do when the pandemic began.
Efficient Business Operations Create High Customer Satisfaction
BreatheMD already had operations in place to allow high-volume Covid testing. Unlike other physician offices or the ER, patients can book and pay for their appointments online. Instead of a tall office building, the practice is located on the ground floor of a strip-center. This allowed patients to get in-and-out easily. Sick patients never have to leave their car for testing. It quickly became known as the easiest and best place to get Covid testing in Houston, with a 24 hour turnaround time.
High efficiency and reliability led to high patient satisfaction and increased demand. MicrogenDX was able to keep up with rising test volume. We never had to limit testing. As more competition came into play, we responded by lowering our prices for our practice and the lab. To encourage easier streams of revenue we offered a 20% discount to business accounts. MicrogenDX introduced pooled saliva testing that considerably lowers the per person price of testing. These factors have brought the average price of a Covid test down 22% from $230 to $180 in the past 11 months. In that time period, BreatheMD, a single-physician practice, has managed to test nearly 15,000 people.
Price Transparency and Containing Costs
The majority of competing test centers are located at Urgent Care Centers. Patients pay little to nothing out-of-pocket and run the entire cost of the test through their insurance. For the patient, this sometimes results in a surprise bill because the test center has submitted claims that the insurance company won’t cover. The cost of a Covid test performed at an Urgent Care Center is far higher than what we charge.
Moving the burden of reimbursement to patients raises their awareness of health care costs and discourages unnecessary testing. In turn, smart consumers puts pressure on us to keep its prices fair. BreatheMD and MicrogenDX provide great care to patients because we have to. A direct to consumer model is why we grew quickly and met the rising demands for testing. Our practice was able to help people get Covid-19 tests when they needed it the most.
Dr. Mary Talley Bowden is board certified in otolaryngology and sleep medicine. She is the founder and owner of BreatheMD.