Allergy Testing Not Ancillary for Medical Practices

At a time when physicians are looking to boost practice revenue, many are adding ancillary services as a way of improving their bottom lines. One of the more popular services is an in-house lab.

At a time when physicians are looking to boost practice revenue, many are adding ancillary services as a way of improving their bottom lines. One of the more popular services is an in-house lab. Advocates say that when well planned, an in-house lab can generate practice income while saving time for both physicians and their patients.

But what about adding a service that becomes a core component of your medical practice rather than just secondary? What about adding the ability to test and, if need be, administer immunotherapy to allergy patients right in your office?

“There are 50 million people symptomatic for allergy in the U.S., a figure that has doubled since 1995,” says Nick Hollis, chief executive officer of United Allergy Services (UAS). “And it’s projected to double again in the next 10 years.”

Not a lab

Hollis shies away from references to UAS’s product as a lab; a misnomer, he calls it.

“When people think of a lab they sort of think of a lot of space, a tremendous amount of infrastructure that needs to go in there, and that’s just really not the case,” Hollis explains.

What UAS delivers to the medical practice is a highly trained technician, college educated in the biosciences, who has gone through a rigorous training course the company has put together. That individual is placed inside the physician’s office and works side by side with the physician’s staff and the physician to provide the testing as well as immunotherapy services.

“We are really a white label inside the physician’s office,” Hollis says. “I think the decision for a physician is do they want to advance the quality of their care in this area. And that’s what we let them do.”

Not turnkey, but profitable

Hollis explains that the UAS service is not a turnkey operation and requires active involvement from the physician, who doesn’t necessarily need to administer the test, but has to inspect it, which UAS teaches the physician how to do.

If the patient is administered immunotherapy, every dosage is custom formulated there in the medical practice.

“The doctor needs to be involved in that process by checking on the patient on a regular basis,” Hollis says. “It’s a light touch, but it’s not hands off. It’s really an extension of the physician’s existing practice into better allergy care.”

According to Hollis, the allergy marketplace is sizeable. He points to national statistics indicating that one in five patients are symptomatic for allergies; that for people under the age of 45, it’s the third largest chronic disease category in the U.S.

“With the move toward the patient-centered medical home, a lot more focus is going to be put on chronic disease management, and it will be happening with the primary care practice,” Hollis explains. “Our company was designed to take advantage of the shift as more and more sub-specialties end up in the primary care physician’s lap.”

That shift could also signal more profits for the medical practice. Hollis says that if a physician were to see and/or test one patient per day, the practice could expect to see additional revenue on a monthly basis in the ballpark of $10,000 to $15,000.

“That’s net for them in their pocket,” he says. “It’s a considerable amount of money when compared to what they’re being paid today for other procedures. It’s an attractive offer for the primary care physician.”

Total staff involvement

Hollis says that for medical practices considering adding an allergy testing and immunotherapy service, it’s important that the entire practice staff be engaged, and to treat the condition like any other chronic disease.

In order for the physician to expand into allergy care, it means making a few adjustments. For instance, the person at the front desk now has to identify potential allergy patients; nurses should ask questions while getting vitals about respiratory issues and allergies. The physician will also be trained to ask those questions, Hollis says.

“So, it’s not really a burden, but it’s an understanding that you’re offering a new service line or a new standard of care in your office, and it has to go through all areas of the office,” he says. “Otherwise, there’s just a breakdown in the service.”

UAS was founded three years ago, and according to Hollis, has experienced 300% compound growth over that time period. More than 1,000 physicians currently have access to the company’s service, as well as many large hospitals systems.

“Receptivity is profound, but it’s really a question of demand,” Hollis says. “Patients are coming in and asking, ‘Doc, what can you do for me?’ Sending them home with steroids and antihistamines just isn’t cutting it any more.”