Before ‘The Big One’ Hits: Clinic’s a la carte screening puts answers in patients’ hands

Two long-time associates have teamed up to launch a new medical testing/screening clinic devoted to putting the patient in control of their own health care.

Vital Health Scores is a “redirection of health care from bureaucrats and reactions to patient-centered, proactive care,” said Mark Zemanek, a clinical sonographer who teamed up with Dr. Douglas Wigton to open the clinic in October.

Located at 1026 Hannah Ave. in Traverse City, Vital Health Scores is a screening clinic for metabolic disorders, including cardiovascular, diabetes, hypertension and more, according to Wigton, who was in a family practice for some 40 years.

While having the patient pay a la carte for their procedures is uncommon, Wigton said it still can pay dividends in the time of high deductibles, high insurance premiums and health account savings accounts.

“The difference is immense,” he said. “The patient’s deductible may be way more than the $50 or so that we would charge.”

“What we charge is considerably less than an insurance deductible,” added Zemanek. “And our tests are as good or better than those you’ll find at any other clinic.”

The concept of launching Vital Health Scores began years ago when Wigton was interested in doing work with stem cells. He purchased an ultrasound device, but later decided against the stem cell project. He already had the expensive machine and began talking with Zemanek, who he had known for approximately 30 years, about the idea of screening patients for carotid artery problems. Their discussions eventually led to the decision to consider opening the clinic.

“We really wanted to do something that would impact patients’ lives,” said Wigton.

The two developed a business plan and conferred with representatives of SCORE, who voiced support for the clinic concept.

“Everyone we talked with was excited,” said Wigton.

Vital Health Scores features two exam rooms, each with a primary piece of medical equipment that is owned by Wigton and operated by Zemanek, who has run this type of high-tech scanning equipment for 30 years. One exam room houses an ultrasound machine that takes two-dimensional pictures. There is also a blood pressure ratio machine that utilizes Doppler technology. The ultrasound measures the thickness of arteries, like the carotid that delivers blood to the head and brain, or the aorta, the major blood vessel leading from the heart. Ultrasounds can be used to efficiently determine arterial health.

“The ultrasound can deliver results that other exams can’t,” said Zemanek. “Some 30 percent of the people off the street will have something substantially wrong with them.”

Obesity, diabetes, smoking, hypertension or genetics that predispose people to certain conditions might be at risk for an aortic aneurysm in the major artery going away from the heart or other life-threatening concerns, Zemanek said.

“And they just don’t know it,” he said. “You can’t listen with a stethoscope and find it, you have to do the ultrasound. It’s 100 percent accurate.”

Vital Health Scores’ other exam room focuses on bone health with a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) machine, which conducts bone density scans to determine lean muscle mass, fat composition and overall bone health. The two exam rooms and the high tech equipment help determine an overall picture of the patient’s health, according to Zemanek.

“You’ve covered everything, from head to toe,” he said.

Wigton is quick to point out that the clinic is not aiming to replace a patient’s primary care physician.

“We want to work with physicians, not replace them,” he said.

The screenings can help patients find answers to questions based on symptoms and family history, according to Wigton.

“Patients want to know and we want to be the people that help them answer that and then be able to work with their doctor,” he said. “We’re not trying to be their physicians.”

Zemanek says the clinic is a shift from medical bureacracy to a more personal type of health care where the patient takes control.

“We’re driven by what the patient would like to have happen. They pay us a very small amount of money compared to what it would cost in an outpatient clinic or hospital setting,” he said. “And we can give you almost the exact same information. And the patient owns the data, they own the report. We’re not trying to supplant their physician; we’re here to partner with their physician.”

To learn more, call Vital Health Scores at (231) 943-2002 or visit www.vitalhealthscores.com.

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