A new lakeshore location where people can drive up and get a COVID-19 test or basic medical care while sitting in their vehicle marks the second of what Nathan Baar hopes will become many drive-thru medical clinics across Michigan.
Baar envisions HealthBar LLC, the company he founded a year ago, growing steadily from its pair of locations in Grand Rapids and Holland, where the company this month opened a clinic to treat minor ailments and offer tests at a former bank office on James Street near U.S. 31.
In addition to the medical clinics, HealthBar plans to begin enlisting employers for on-site workplace care and wellness.
Baar describes his company as “developing a clinical network for health care service delivery that is outside of the traditional structure,” which comes with high costs and is geared toward treating illnesses. Instead, HealthBar will focus on health promotion, wellness and education, while offering people easy access to care “that really meets their needs where they are,” Baar said.
“What we’re trying to rally and push is a meaningful movement that is truly trying to change the trajectory of health care. We’re really trying to join that push to say the system is broken and we need to fix it,” said Baar, HealthBar’s CEO and founder who previously worked as director of emergency and urgent care services at Metro Health - University of Michigan Health.
HealthBar, which also offers a telehealth platform, started in 2020 by piloting a drive-thru model for offering COVID-19 tests during the pandemic.
The company now looks to expand to a larger “urgent care style of care” at drive-thru clinics that offer convenient access, such as when parents get up on a Saturday morning and a young child requires attention for an earache or some other minor ailment. They could do a telehealth visit through HealthBar, which could also dispatch a clinician to their home, or visit a drive-thru clinic.
HealthBar does not seek to compete with or replace primary care physician offices or health systems, said Baar, a registered nurse.
“We’re trying to fill a void in the health care delivery model that nobody’s really doing a great job at right now,” said Baar, who sees the potential to partner with primary care practices and health systems in the future.
Staffed primarily by nurse practitioners, the drive-thru locations are intended for treating minor ailments or getting a COVID-19 test or a routine blood draw to check a person’s cholesterol or A1C, for example. The sites are open to employees and their families at participating companies, as well as the general public.
Baar formed HealthBar early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a public health crisis that has driven the exponential growth of telehealth, given rise to the use of drive-thru testing and vaccination sites and “blew up the traditional delivery model and people’s pre-conceived notion of things.”
“The pandemic has accelerated this new model or new concept of health care delivery. People previously never really thought about driving through for testing or medical service. Telehealth was coming, but not quite there,” Baar said. “There are a lot of these alternative means of health care delivery that the pandemic has significantly accelerated. It just opened people’s minds to break free from the norm.”
During the pandemic, many hospitals successfully deployed drive-thru locations to test people for COVID-19 and later to offer vaccinations. Last July, Fast Company detailed how a Seattle, Wash.-based architecture firm designed a conceptual drive-thru medical clinic for physicians to treat people in their vehicles, and that hospitals could easily deploy in a parking garage or parking lot.
With HealthBar, Baar seeks to elevate the drive-thru model. He hopes the concept catches on to the point that he can open several more locations in West Michigan and the east side of the state, both with drive-thru locations and on-site clinics at employers.
“We want to be a big player, not just in Michigan, but across the region and across the nation. That’s what we’re trying to push for,” he said. “We want to create these centers and push them in different markets and have these different networks of health care.”
In looking to connect with employers for on-site medical clinics, HealthBar also plays into a growing trend, especially among companies that self-fund their health coverage, to offer employees basic and primary care in the workplace. In many cases, it’s a service that builds on corporate wellness programs.
“We’re taking these components and concepts of everything and putting them together in a way that’s creating a new ecosystem of health care,” said Baar, emphasizing the wellness role that HealthBar seeks to drive via onsite employer clinics.
A concierge service, known as the Healthcare Partnership Program, will provide medical support and manage high-cost chronic illnesses among employees at participating employers. Companies can customize the level of service they want to offer, and HealthBar charges employers a per-month, per-employee fee to run the onsite clinic.
“Our largest focus is to say, ‘We want to make people healthier. We want to reduce dependency on medication. We want to make people happier through good health and change their life by helping them understand how to be healthy, how to maintain health, and how to navigate health care appropriately,’ and empowering that person to make informed decisions, instead of being a victim of poor health,” he said.
HealthBar employs a workforce of 15 people and contracts for about 300 clinicians to handle testing at the drive-thru locations. The company now works with more than 50 businesses, mostly for pandemic-related services.