Leisa: Hi, I’m Leisa Holland, Nelson, and welcome to Women Mean Business, where we’re going to chat with extraordinary women who are shattering glass ceilings every day, running companies, starting nonprofits and changing the ways we navigate and view our world. My guest today is Dr. Juliet Breeze, the founder and CEO of Next Level Urgent Care, and about eight other companies. Juliet, welcome to Women Mean Business.
Dr. Breeze: Thank you, Leisa. It is always a pleasure to talk to you.
Leisa: I know it’s been quite a year for Next Level. So, we want you to remind us what you do at Next Level and tell us what’s been going on this year.
Dr. Breeze: Absolutely. It has been eight years since I founded Next Level Urgent Care, and I founded it based upon my frustration with non-cost-effective options for care in Houston. And it has been a wild ride, but particularly wild over the last year when we went into pandemic mode and started out with basically all of a sudden there were no patients, it was a lockdown. And then just as quickly, there were thousands of patients more than we were used to. And so, this has been a year of growth for our company, it has been a year of really figuring out who we are, and also thinking really hard about who we’re going to be in the future, going into the future, in healthcare. We found our place; we feel like we really participated in helping our community through the pandemic and we believe we have more to offer. So, it’s been, you know, the worst year and the best year all rolled into one.
Leisa: Tell us some of the specifics of what you’ve done this past year. I know you got involved in research around COVID testing. You were like the first people really to test for COVID in Houston. I know that’s where I got my test and seven others. But also, I know you’re working with companies now, it’s growing so much, and I think you want to tell us about a big expansion plan also.
Dr. Breeze: Basically, what happened was that we in responding to what was happening in our community, we definitely, we launched research, which has been a fabulous opportunity for our patients to participate in groundbreaking studies. We were actually among the first clinics in the country to be studying the monoclonal antibodies, and now we offer that as a therapy at Next Level. But before we offered it as a standard therapy, it was offered as a research clinical trial. So, that was exciting. We also launched a central lab and that was in response to the fact that we saw that our national labs, the Quest and the Labcorps of the world really had bitten off a little more than they could chew during the pandemic and they just weren’t able to turn around results and provide the kind of customer service that we wanted to give to our patients. So, we launched our own internal lab, which has allowed us to offer very extremely discounted pricing to our clients. And of course, just like every other medical provider in the nation, we had to figure out telemedicine because patients were afraid to come in. They found that there were certain things that they could get care for at home and they wanted to do medicine that way. So, we launched telemedicine. What was different and what I think has propelled us in the direction that we’re now very excited about heading, is that we realized we have this network of now 17 going on 20 urgent cares in the Houston area, and we can use these facilities to provide a hybrid of sorts.
So, when patients start a telemedicine visit, but then we find that for whatever reason they need a chest x-ray, they need a lab, someone needs to listen to them or look at them in some way we can direct them to the nearest center. We put their telemedicine visit on hold and seamlessly they walk into the center and we reopen the visit and start without having to back up and get all that information all over again. So, compared to the Teladocs of the world, we’re kind of offering a smoother experience for patients. We ended up rolling that into a membership model, which is the thing that I’m most excited about. The reason I’m excited about the membership model is that one of the things that I’m seeing as an employer and what kind of gets me aggravated is that every time my broker comes back to me every year, my health insurance premiums are going up. And in order to defend myself against the rising premiums, I’m tweaking what we give to our employees. So, their deductibles are a little higher, or their network is a little narrower or something is happening so that they aren’t getting the care that they used to get, and I’m still paying more.
Leisa: Right, and we’ve all found that.
Dr. Breeze: I’m so angry about it. And so, what I did was I started thinking, really what do people want in healthcare. They want to get it whenever they need it, 24/7. They don’t want to get it only from 8am – 5pm on the weekdays like what most doctors are open for. They also really don’t want to pay for it. And so, what we did was we said, you know, let’s just take myself as an example, I’m an employer, I’m self-insured, so I pay every dollar of everything that happens to my employees and their healthcare. But I have health insurance to utilize their fee schedules and their rates. So, what we did was we said, what if we just took the basic things that everyone uses: preventive care, like your annual exams, primary care and basic urgent care. And we said, let’s just have employers prepay for that in a membership. And then employees can use it for $0 at the time of service, anytime they need us.
And this is really different. If you buy a membership for your employee, your employee can come to us on a Sunday afternoon at 3:00 PM and get a physical exam, or they can get their diabetes taken care of at 7:00 PM on a Thursday night. And those are the kinds of things that are, you know, really just not available outside of what we’re doing right now.
Leisa: What I’m listening to is really game-changing. I have one personal question, of course, like I always do, can I join, or does it have to be a company joining for their employees?
Dr. Breeze: So, right now we’re launching this, and my ultimate goal would be that we open this up to individuals, but the way that I’m starting is with employer groups.
Leisa: Okay. So, yours is urgent care at Next Level, what other kinds of care are there?
Dr. Breeze: There’s emergency room care, there’s care at minute clinics or those kinds of retail centers, there’s of course primary care and direct care. What we have done is we’ve made a very simple solution that all of our members have one button to push on their phone. They push that button, they get connected immediately with a care navigator, and that person can answer any healthcare question so they can tell the person, well, that would be best suited for an emergency room, or we can take care of that in one of our facilities, or that’s really something that we can just put you on the phone with a provider right now and get that taken care of in a virtual setting.
Leisa: Juliet, I understand there’s some big plans for Next Level, please share them with us.
Dr. Breeze: Well, Leisa, it’s on the early side because we just launched this service, but we are getting such incredible enthusiasm from employers. And our number one question is, are you also, and you name the city or the region. And so, we realize that this is something where expansion is likely because of the need. And so, what we’re looking for right now is, we’re kind of talking to employers that have already started with us and trying to figure out if there’s some commonality between the next place that they want us to be. And that way we’ll kind of move to a city with a population that already wants to use us.
Leisa: So, you will build a Next Level Urgent Care in the cities that you’re going to, there will be a hard facility.
Dr. Breeze: The reason is that part of the magic is the hybrid nature of it. So, without an actual facility, I just don’t believe we provide the kind of care that we really want to provide.
Leisa: Does this call for funding?
Dr. Breeze: Yes. As a matter of fact, we are beginning the sort of search for financial partners that will help us to really take this out to a broader market. And that we’re expecting that within the next 18 to 24 months, we’ll be making those plans.
Leisa: I know you’re a mom with four children. How have you navigated momism and this incredible year with over 400 employees?
Dr. Breeze: Well, I have to admit my children are mostly grown. My youngest one is a freshman in college. And so, I can’t even imagine what moms are going through and I don’t even want to speak to it because I think that I have unbelievable admiration for the women with young children who are trying to have a career and manage all of that. And I just thank God every day that my kids were grown when this happened, because I don’t know how women are doing it. It’s very difficult.
Leisa: So, advice for entrepreneurs.
Dr. Breeze: Advice for entrepreneurs, I think what has helped me in my career is figuring out a big goal, like a big dream and going after it. I think sometimes we try to do things in bite size steps, we try to pace ourselves and measure ourselves. I don’t know. I think there’s something about the idea of solving a big problem that gets you excited and motivated. And so, for entrepreneurs, first of all, be passionate about the problem you’re solving, but make it big enough that it can keep growing with you and like what I’m looking at right now, trying to solve healthcare in the United States, it’s a pretty big problem, but gosh, it gives me a lot of reason to get up every morning and keep fighting.
Leisa: Thank you so much for being here. And I have to say that is extraordinary advice from an extraordinary woman. I’m your host, Leisa Holland Nelson, and we’ll be back soon with another episode of Women Mean Business.
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