TRAVERSE CITY — Before medical insurance existed, patients paid for their own health care costs.
The fee-for-service model went the way of doctors making house calls. But a new screening clinic in Traverse City opened in October with a similar focus. Vital Health Scores aims to put the patient in control of their own health care.
“It’s a redirection of health care from bureaucrats and reactions to patient-centered, proactive care,” said Mark D. Zemanek, a clinical sonographer and educator.
“It’s a screening clinic for metabolic disorders,” said Dr. Douglas J. Wigton, the other half of the Vital Health Scores duo. “Cardiovascular, diabetes, hypertension, those kind of things. And it’s not just finding them when they’re there, but being able to find the hallmarks that might indicate if something is done, you may avoid them.”
Located in Suite C at 1026 Hannah Ave., Vital Health Scores offers services that patients select with a corresponding, pre-determined fee. Wigton — who was in regular family practice for nearly 40 years and still works a couple of days a week during the last four years of his “retirement” — accepts insurance, but most screenings are not covered.
“You can still get it, but you’ll be struck with the $500 to $1,000 bill,” Zemanek said.
A hearing test and a vision screening cost $22.50, for example. Package screenings are also available, including a 40-minute vascular ultrasound screening for $135 and a two-hour executive health screen for $450.
While paying for procedures this way is not common, 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,” Wigton said. “Their deductible may be way more than the $50 we would charge.”
Vital Health Scores uses two examination rooms, each with a primary piece of medical equipment that is owned by Wigton and operated by Zemanek, who has run this type of equipment for 30 years. Zemanek operated Leelanau Diagnostic Ultrasound out of his home in Maple City for nearly a dozen of those years.
One exam room encloses an ultrasound machine that takes two-dimensional pictures. There is also an ankle/brachial index (blood pressure ratio) machine that uses Doppler.
The ultrasound can measure things such as the thickness arteries, like the carotid that delivers blood to the head and brain, or the aortic, the major blood vessel leading from the heart. Ultrasounds can be used to determine arterial health “other than waiting until they’ve had their first anginal attack or MI (myocardial infraction).”
Zemanek said the ultrasound can deliver results that other examinations can’t.
“You give me 100 people off the street and 30 of them will have something substantially wrong with them,” he said. “Thirty percent. It will either be an aortic aneurysm, the major artery going away from the heart. It will be carotid occlusive disease.
“(It can be from) cigarettes, obesity, diabetes, hypertension or, just bad luck — genetics. And they don’t know it. You can’t just take a stethoscope and listen and find it. You have to do the ultrasound. It’s 100 percent accurate,” said Zemanek.
The business’ other examination room helps determine body and bone health with a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) machine.
The bone density scan determines lean muscle mass, visceral fat composition and location, as well as overall bone health. While some of these conditions can’t be reversed, others can be altered.
“With diet and lifestyle, things can be changed,” Wigton said. “That’s kind of what we are really anticipating being able to accomplish.”
Zemanek said the two exam rooms and major pieces of equipment help determine an overall health picture.
“You’ve covered everything — literally — from head to toe,” he said.
The screening clinic is not supposed to replace a patient’s doctor, Wigton said. He said the screens can help patients find answers to questions based on symptoms and family history.
“They want to know,” Wigton said. “Well, we want to be the people that help them answer that and then be able to work with their doctor. We’re not trying to be their physicians.”
Zemanek said his business is a return to patient-driven health care. That sentiment was echoed by patient Tom Wigton, the doctor’s brother and an anesthetist for 22 years.
“I love the idea of people taking responsibility for their own health,” Tom Wigton said. “What a novel idea.”
“It’s a shift away from a bureaucratization of medicine to a personal initiative where the patient, the client, steps forward and pays us a very small amount of money compared to what it would cost in an outpatient clinic or hospital setting,” Zemanek said. “And we can give you almost the exact same information and the patient owns the data, they own the report.”
Vital Health Scores can be reached at (231) 943-2002. More information is also available at www.vitalhealthscores.com.