When I moved to Southeast Texas approximately five years ago, it was offered almost as an article of faith that whenever local doctors got sick, they traveled 90 west to Houston for treatment. The unspoken corollary was that their more affluent patients did the same.
To the extent that was true, it appears that recent years have seen a changing climate here in term of medical care. A new billboard erected near the intersection of Dowlen Road and Highway 69 proclaims, “Houston … You have a problem,” then touts “World Class Surgery. Personal Attention. Right here in Beaumont.”
The billboard was created by Cornerstone Media on behalf of Previty Clinic, located inside the Memorial Hermann Baptist Hospital in Beaumont. A visit to Previty takes you outside the realm of a normal physician’s office. You are greeted with a friendly welcome from Gail, who seems more like a concierge than a charge nurse herding you through a patient-processing facility. She offers you tea or espresso and invites you to perch on a comfortable settee for the doctor who will be right with you. Even the magazines and books seem a cut above the clinical norm.
To address the issue of why you called Previty Clinic in the first place, you will see Dr. Garrett K. Peel. Despite the welcoming atmosphere, he is the real reason Previty is a cut above. Peel is a Texas native and holds medical and public health degrees from the George Washington and Johns Hopkins universities. Prior to his arrival in Beaumont, he was chief resident at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he was trained and mentored by world-renowned surgeons and gained expertise in complex surgical procedures.
The mellow vibe at Previty reflects his belief that restoring the mind and spirit is an important part of making the body well — art and science together play a role in the healing process. In addition, Peel is chief of the Division of Oncological Surgery at Baptist, ensuring his influence and healing touch are felt outside the walls of Previty. The availability of specialized care and physicians like Peel is making trips to Houston increasingly unnecessary for local health care consumers.
“There’s no question we have quality health care in Southeast Texas because both hospitals have been recognized nationally – Christus and Baptist,” said one observer who closely tracks the local medical scene, and enumerates the points that are important to many patients. “You have a board-certified physician – you definitely want to know that, and there’s nothing wrong with asking doctors their clinical outcomes; you can go online and see that now. So if you have everything that’s necessary here to provide the service in the right atmosphere with the right clinical outcomes in a doctor’s office that meets your needs, why would you go to Houston?”
The recent opening of the Outpatient Diagnostic Center is another case in point. Owned by Dr. Brent Mainwaring, the ODC is a full service facility on College Street in Beaumont providing all diagnostic and women’s imaging tests in a single location designed to put the patient at ease during every stage of their visit.
“We designed the facility to be very warm and welcoming,” said Mainwaring. “We don’t have televisions; we keep soft music playing in the background. The colors are muted, and we have original art on the wall. We want our patients to be as relaxed as possible during the testing process.”
Our local medical observer told the Business Journal not all diagnostic facilities are created equal.
“Insurance companies are all about saving dollars,” said the observer. “If you need an MRI, they may send you over to the MRI place that used to be a movie theater that has a rejuvenated MRI machine that is probably 15 years old and you can get your MRI for half the price. Never mind they can’t see a tumor that’s in your liver – it’s half the price!”
That’s not an issue at ODC, said Ed Field, executive director. “We are a state-of-the-art facility,” he noted, then suggested telling the difference is not always easy. That’s one of the challenges for the medical consumer these days.”
Field said should an abnormality be detected, “ODC performs biopsies five days a week where a hospital might only do biopsies one day a week.”
Last week there was a groundbreaking for a new hospital in Beaumont on Dowlen Road. Victory Medical Center can be described as a boutique hospital with eight patient rooms and four surgical suites designed specifically to accomplish complex spine procedures. The new hospital is a partnership between Victory Healthcare and the surgeons of Golden Triangle Neurocare.
Although Victory will operate as an out-of-network provider – meaning many procedures will be covered at reduced rates or not at all under some insurance plans – founder and CEO Robert N. Helms Jr. said that does not automatically translate into greater costs and cited the recent spinal surgery of his wife as an example.
“Had her case been done the normal way, she would have ended up with all kinds of hardware in her back and been hospitalized for at least four days. Under the technique that was used for her, they used a device called an AccuraScope. It’s from France, a very, very tiny scope with tremendous capabilities,” said Helms.
According to the literature, the AccuraScope procedure uses a live X-ray for guidance and a tiny incision to insert the small scope through a small incision in the skin and into a natural opening at the base of the spine. The surgeon then uses a number of instruments, including a laser, to shrink the damaged disc and relieve pressure on the spinal nerve. This procedure is usually completed in 30 to 40 minutes. Patients are returned to the recovery area and are usually discharged approximately one hour after the surgery.
Her husband said the experience of Mrs. Helms was a textbook case.
“They were able to repair three discs that she had damaged very badly,” he noted. “After her procedure, she remained in the hospital in the recovery room for about an hour, and another half hour to get her to the point where she was dressed and ready to go home – and I took her home,” he said.
Helms said the costs of the procedure were much less because conventional surgery could have easily required four days hospitalization. “Not only that, but the hardware that would have been installed in her back would have come fairly near the overall cost of the procedure, so it’s far, far more cost effective,” he said.
In addition, for most Medicare patients with a decent supplement policy, the out-of-network proviso would not make Victory Medical Services a prohibitively expensive option.
Business Journal editor James Shannon offers a weekly column of business news for readers of The Examiner. For more details, see the editions of the Business journal published monthly in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Greater Orange. Check out the blog at setxbiz.blogspot.com or e-mail james [at] beaumontbusinessjournal [dot] com.