A member of the physicians’ group at Indiana Regional Medical Center has struck out on his own to bring a unique sort of clinic to a busy Pittsburgh neighborhood.
“It’s a micro-practice model,” Dr. Timothy H. Wong said of his one-man iHealth Clinic that opened two months ago at 6008 Centre Ave. in East Liberty.
It also is unique because the cost for most primary care and urgent care visits to his clinic is $35, and Wong doesn’t take insurance.
“I was getting tired and sick of the health care system and how it was not working very well,” Wong said. “The end goal is really to show that there are other ways of providing good care that may not involve insurance.”
Wong’s solution didn’t come overnight. He took time to mull over “an opportunity where I could make a change,” saying, “mentally (it was) almost non-stop for a couple months before I decided to leave (Indiana Physicians’ Group).”
Then it took a month to actually make that change, to a location in familiar territory.
“It is such a nice area of Pittsburgh,” Wong said. “The office faces out on the main streets.”
It isn’t far from Penn Circle, and he’s within a mile of such landmarks as AAA East Central and East Liberty Presbyterian Church.
Wong, 35, is board-certified as a physician dealing with family medicine. His specialties include primary care and utilizing technology to improve patient health.
Quoting his website, “his medical care incorporates the biopsychosocial model into everyday practice. His clinical interests include integrating technology and medicine, chronic care, and patient education.”
His clientele so far has included a patient who was in need of a heart catheterization. He was able to refer her to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh.
“I can refer (a patient) to any hospital,” Wong said. “So far I’ve not run into any problem.”
His hope is to prove “that this is a financially sustainable model.” So far, he said, “I’ve had some providers reach out to me” — including a physician considering his own one-man clinic in California.
Previously Wong was quality committee chairman for the IRMC Physician Group.
As he found out after Gov. Tom Wolf declared a public health emergency over opioids in January 2018, “The risk of opioid dependence is a complex issue and must often be balanced in treating patients appropriately for pain.”
The emergency was a response to a new phenomenon, that caused medical teams to scramble to find solutions. Wong and other physicians found themselves “kind of traveling by the seat of our pants.”
But he also found out that insurers such as Highmark and UPMC Health Plan hold physicians responsible for certain metrics — and that metrics may not exist without evidence found in clinical trials that could go on for decades.
He ran into problems with red tape as well as insurance companies that didn’t want to cover the cost of needed patient services.
“In some cases there is no alternative,” Wong said.
He recalled a patient who needed Suboxone, a combination medication that includes buprenorphine and naloxone — the latter by itself also known as Narcan, the drug used to revive overdose victims.
It was the sort of medication that required prior authorization — that is to say, permission from a health insurance provider — before it could be administered.
He said the patient did not get prior authorization fast enough and risked a relapse. Eventually, she did get the authorization.
Wong’s website is an extension of what he can offer in East Liberty.
There is a patient portal that can help patients communicate with their doctor, look at test results and get more information about their health. There’s a list of medications that are purchased at wholesale prices and “can be cheaper than any pharmacy,” with the savings passed on to the patient.
And iHealth Clinic has partnered with other companies to cut the cost of testing.
“You can choose to use your insurance or one of our partners,” the website said.
Wong was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
He attended Cornell University and the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University in Buffalo, and did a three-year residency at UPMC Shadyside Hospital, before a 4ﾽ-year tenure at IRMC.
As his website tells the reader, “His interests include the latest gadgets, aquascaping, his pet chinchillas, comics and spending time with his wife,” Dr. Kathryn Trinidad, who remains employed at IRMC.
“My wife and I on the weekend used to come here and do our paperwork,” Wong said.
Meanwhile, he is working a seven-day week, living in Pittsburgh but commuting to Indiana on Sundays.
His hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, as he pursues three guiding principles:
• Health care needs to be simple.
• Health care needs to be about the patient and the doctor.
• Health care needs to be accessible.
“You communicate with the only employee who knows you best — your doctor,” Wong’s patients are told. “By being incredibly efficient and doing things a little differently, we can lower costs and that means you pay less for the care you need.”