Lab work. It is an essential part of any medical practice, especially in functional medicine clinics. It can also be a big hassle factor for practitioners and patients alike.
While companies like Quest and Labcorp have done a good job of bundling standard conventional lab tests into single one-stop shops, so to speak, the situation within functional medicine is more complex.
Practitioners routinely deal with multiple lab companies, each with its own offerings, its own timelines, and its own idiosyncratic methods. There’s the challenge of ordering and stocking test kits to give to patients. And that’s on top of the general headaches of scheduling blood draws when needed, chasing and aggregating test results, and booking patient visits to discuss them.
With its new Wellevate Labs platform, Emerson Ecologics—one of the nation’s major practitioner-focused supplement distributors—aims to take the hassles out of functional diagnostic testing with a one-stop digital platform through which practitioners can order tests, store results, schedule visits, and develop care plans.
Simplicity & Continuity
Emerson’s fully HIPAA-compliant Wellevate “Connected Care Platform” launched in November 2020. The lab management component is the latest inclusion in an already robust set of practice management tools that includes a secure telemedicine system (powered by Vsee). Qualified practitioners can access the Wellevate suite free of charge.
“Diagnostic and functional testing labs are so disparate. Practitioners have to maintain all these relationships with different labs, deal with multiple portals, keep supplies of test kits. Our goal is to simplify all of that,” explains Jaclyn Chasse Smeaton, ND, Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs at Emerson Ecologics.
The lab management project was driven, in part by the new healthcare dynamics brought about by the COVID pandemic.
Emerson saw a major surge in Wellevate users since the pandemic began, as practitioners and their patients sought online substitutes for in-person clinic visits. On the supplement dispensing side, the company saw a big rise in product sales in early 2020 that has stayed consistent throughout 2021.
But the Wellevate team was aware that the pandemic has been extremely challenging for many clinics.
Born From Pandemic Pressures
“When the pandemic hit, we were very worried about the small, solo practitioners,” says Smeaton, who still maintains a small private naturopathic practice of her own.
Independent practices make up a significant proportion of Wellevate’s practitioner base. While many small practices were struggling to stay afloat, Smeaton and her colleagues saw that others were thriving despite the pandemic.
“Some were even doing better than before. So, we phoned them to ask about what they were doing and how they were making it work, so we could share those tips with others.”
Among the gleanings, Wellevate learned that many practitioners wanted ways to simplify lab work. Input from the clinical community shaped Wellevate Labs, as well as other innovations like Wellevate’s “Pivot Your Practice” practitioner education campaign.
The lab venture draws on Emerson Ecologics’ 40 years of experience and expertise in aggregation and distribution.
“We had already developed solutions to help practitioners dispense a wide range of different supplements from diverse companies,” Smeaton explained. Aggregation of lab tests, simplifying the ordering process, and consolidating the results was a similar multi-vendor distribution challenge.
The venture also benefits from a creative partnership with Evexia Diagnostics, a practitioner-founded practice management company that has been a pioneer in lab test aggregation. Evexia provides the software infrastructure for Wellevate Labs.
A One-Stop Portal
As with its online dispensary, Wellevate Labs is a one-stop portal through which practitioners and their patients can access the vast majority of common lab tests—standard conventional panels as well as “specialty” functional medicine ones.
Wellevate maintains the relationships with the various lab companies, obviating the need for practitioners to do so. On the front end, like their virtual dispensary, the lab platform is fully customizable with a practice’s graphics, color schemes, and patient-facing editorial content.
Wellevate currently offers tests from 16 major specialty labs including Genova Diagnostics, SpectraCell, Doctor’s Data, Precision Analytical, US BioTek, and Diagnostic Solutions. Clinicians can also use Wellevate to order conventional tests via Labcorp, though these appear as a separate order on the portal’s dashboard.
Wellevate Labs already has roughly 650 users, with more logging on every week. Smeaton says onboarding and implementation is quick, especially for practitioners already using the basic Wellevate platform. Most clinics can get the system up and running in a matter of minutes.
Wellevate Labs does require users to enter NPI (National Provider Identifier) numbers, to validate medical credentials. The platform is accessible to all physicians with prescribing rights. In states where they are licensable, naturopaths can access it independently. NDs in unlicensed states, chiropractors, nutrition professionals and others can use Wellevate Labs but only under MD oversight.
On the practitioner side, ordering tests for a patient is as simple as clicking the name of the lab(s), and then clicking the desired tests. The system offers some pre-set combination panels that aggregate diverse tests from different labs. It also allows practitioners to customize their own test combos.
On the patient side, the Wellevate app shows patients what tests their doctors have requested with complete price transparency, since most specialty tests are not insurance reimbursable. Once the patient affirms the order and pays, the test requests are automatically sent to the labs.
If a particular test requires a kit or special supplies, the labs send them to the patient, or to the clinic if need be.
“It’s really seamless. There’s one order, and one checkout, with no balance billing.”
Patients and practitioners can also use the app to schedule phlebotomy appointments at the clinic, in the patient’s home, or at any Labcorp draw center. They can also use the app to review care plans and supplement recommendations, and to order refills.
Once tests are completed, the labs report the results directly into the Wellevate platform where they become visible to practitioners and patients for review. This facilitates interpretation, discussion, and care planning.
Wellevate handles all patient tech support calls, freeing practitioners from the need to talk patients through logistics, answer common questions, or troubleshoot glitches.
Functional diagnostic testing can get expensive; the Wellevate team is conscious of this fact. Smeaton says the platform offers specialty tests at the lowest allowable prices, and that Labcorp has given them very good rates on conventional tests.
The proximity of this new test aggregator and Emerson’s supplement dispensary inevitably begs the question of conflict of interest: Will practitioners order tests with the unstated goal of driving supplement sales revenue?
Smeaton says it is a reasonable question for someone to ask. But she stressed that the potential for conflicts of interest exists whenever a patient is purchasing anything from a medical practice. “Wellevate does not change that in any way. It still comes down to whether a patient can trust that a practitioner has their best interests in mind.”
She stressed that the new labs platform is fully HIPAA-compliant, and that Wellevate takes cybersecurity very seriously. The platform does not store any patient credit card information, and Emerson’s information security team works with independent third-party consultants that monitor the system for vulnerabilities.
Smeaton and her colleagues expect that the Wellevate Labs platform will continue to expand and improve as more practitioners use it, and more lab companies offer their tests.
“This is only the beginning.”