So says the firm’s owner, Tammy Born, also a D.O., and the widow of the founder.
She says the 23,000-square-foot clinic — which now has three other physicians plus a massage therapist and an acupuncture practitioner — is a thriving family practice.
The firm has a staff of 28 nurses and clerical workers and is visited by 200 to 250 patients a day. Born declined to disclose the clinic’s annual revenue, but she did say that it costs $4,000 a day just to open the doors in the morning.
And as is the ironic case with so many medical practices — thanks as much to the AIDS scare as anything else — the cost of health insurance has skyrocketed.
“In four years, she said, “our health benefits costs have gone up 160 percent.” And as is also the case with other medical firms, she said that it’s difficult to find and keep skilled nurses, thanks to hospitals’ pay scales and work rules.
Clerical staff is just as important, she indicated, because the process of billing state and federal health agencies literally can get dangerous.
In most circumstances, transposing a number in a diagnostic code — and the code lists are dozens of pages long — means the claim will be refused and must be re-billed at considerable expense. Meanwhile, the patient’s temper may begin to flare. But such technical errors can lead to worse problems.
“We’re held to such a high standard,” Born said, “that if we miss a number we can be charged with fraud and sent to jail.”
Despite such concerns, Born said she is considering proposals to establish satellite clinics in Battle Creek and Novi.
Moreover, she says something else is in the wind that might cause the business to create its own training arm, something like an institute.
That’s because the clinic is one of many sites around the country in which the National Institutes of Health next year will kick off a five-year, $30 million study to assess the efficacy of chelation therapy.
For those new to it, chelation therapy might be best described in laymen’s terms as a means of removing trace toxins — heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic — from the body.
Metal toxicity is suspected as being implicated in a number of disorders ranging from certain types of hypertension to Alzheimer’s disease, and national health officials’ concerns about such problems are part of the study’s genesis.
Chelation came into being 50 years ago as a way of helping people who were suffering from lead poisoning. The process involves giving a patient an IV of a synthetic amino acid named EDTA that, as Born explains it, has a bonding affinity with molecules of the toxins in question. Once the amino acid bonds with a metal’s molecules, it is flushed from the body via the excretory system.
Born says her late husband began treating himself with EDTA when conventional medicine, together with surgery, gave him only a short time to live due to a chronic heart condition.
“He was supposed to live only three more years,” she said, “but with chelation therapy he lived for 16, and he didn’t feel it was ethical for him to not give other patients the opportunity to get the same benefits.”
She stresses that EDTA is by no means a cure-all. But she said that coupled with proper diet, it can offer profound preventative benefits for people with incipient disorders related to the circulatory system.
Born said that before employing the therapy on a patient, the clinic first subjects that patient to blood testing that is much broader than that most other health practitioners seek. Such testing, she said, shows whether chelation therapy is indicated.
And it seems indicated in a good many cases because one of the most physically striking things about the clinic is a broad, long sunroom with ranks of overstuffed recliners and large numbers of stainless steel IV stands.
The conventional view of chelation therapy at first, Born said, was that it was a kooky waste of money. But because it was approved as a treatment for lead toxicity, it was lawful for doctors to use it for other purposes. And that’s what the Borns and other practitioners around the country began doing in the 80s.
“Grant and I were practicing for a long time by ourselves, out in kind of an island,” she told the Business Journal.
“But now a lot more doctors are referring people to us, or asking to work here,” she said, “especially the younger doctors.
“Many young doctors are doing studies in other countries and then coming back here saying there’s more than just drugs and surgery, that we have to look at alternatives.
“And now companies are looking at us, too. When we first started, we were looked upon as expensive.
“And now it has turned full circle,” she said. “The hospitals and the traditional care are thought of as expensive, and chelation as a proactive way to prevent certain diseases before it becomes necessary to treat them.
“My charge for chelation is the same as it was at the beginning.”
She explained that in the federal study, half the patients will receive EDTA IVs, the other half will received sterile water. “I won’t even know who’s getting placebo and who’s getting the EDTA.”
She’s confident that the study will help establish nationally that chelation therapy is a valuable and proactive way of addressing many health issues that relate to circulatory problems, ranging from memory loss to plaque formation in arteries.
Born stressed that when a new patient arrives, she and her colleagues don’t stop his or her medication “and give him a carrot and some vitamin C.”
“We have no problem with traditional drugs as long as they’re appropriate.” She said the firm’s motto is that it blends the best of traditional, preventive and alternative medicine. That means, she said, that new patients are told to continue their medication unless and until testing reveals that some other steps are called for.