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Reducing the cost of healthcare


Rutgers and Quest Diagnostics collaborate on providing no-cost lab tests for uninsured and underinsured patients.

Reducing the cost of healthcare

Over the next year, Rutgers University will collaborate with Quest Diagnostics to provide no-cost laboratory tests to diagnose and manage acute and chronic diseases for uninsured and underinsured patients of the university's H.O.P.E. Clinic in Plainfield, New Jersey.

Lab tests for chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, sexually transmitted infections, and Lyme disease will be included.

Clinicians send laboratory orders directly to a nearby Quest patient service center under the program, allowing patients to visit immediately following their appointment. The results are immediately transmitted back to the clinic for follow-up with the patient.

Gianella Burga, a Rutgers physician assistant student who volunteers at the H.O.P.E. Clinic, which is owned and operated by the Rutgers School of Health Professions, understands firsthand how difficult it is for people without insurance to obtain even the most basic medical care, such as lab tests.

“Many of my family members are uninsured and struggle to get testing for conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol. It’s difficult for them to take a day off from work for a doctor’s visit and then another day for tests,” said Burga. “This is why I went into medicine: To address these gaps in care.”

Burga is one of about 75 students who volunteer at Plainfield's H.O.P.E. Clinic, which provides free primary care to hundreds of uninsured adults, many of whom speak Spanish.

One day per week, Rutgers faculty and physician assistant students see patients attempting to manage acute and chronic diseases, referring them to specialists and providing critical education on how to manage their health conditions.

The Rutgers physician assistant program has been providing free primary care services in various locations throughout the state for well over a decade. The H.O.P.E. Clinic, which opened in 2021, provides an important service to a city where approximately 30% of residents are uninsured and 39% do not have a primary-care provider.

According to Frank Giannelli, director of the H.O.P.E. Clinic and assistant professor in the physician assistant program at Rutgers School of Health Professions, following through with lab tests can be difficult for this community and jeopardize their care.

“If lab tests are required, the patient has to find a lab, schedule an appointment, receive the lab results and bring them back to us for a consultation,” said Giannelli.

“It’s a multi-step process where at any point, something can go wrong or they may find the cost is astronomical and leave. Navigating this process is difficult – especially for non-English speakers – and could ultimately prevent them from getting the treatment they need.”

“This one-stop-shop testing streamlines the process and makes it easier for patients to receive the treatment they need,” said Jessica Romero, a physician assistant student at Rutgers who works at the clinic.

Quest, the world's leading provider of diagnostic information services, has a long history of providing underserved and minority communities across the country with the information they need to take control of their health. Recognizing early in the pandemic that COVID-19 was disproportionately affecting communities of color, the company launched Quest for Health Equity with the initial goal of providing these communities with access to COVID-19 testing and critical health care services.

“This has since grown to become a more than $100 million initiative focused on addressing health care disparities,” said Ruth Clements, Vice President and General Manager of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Quest Diagnostics and leader of Quest for Health Equity.

“This collaboration with Rutgers is a great example of joining forces to make a difference in underserved communities. As our headquarters is based in New Jersey, we are honored to work to address health inequities in our home state with a strong teammate like Rutgers.”

The H.O.P.E. Clinic is one of an estimated 1,400 free and charitable clinics in the United States, which serve approximately 7 million people each year. Giannelli sees a national concern addressed by Quest's commitment to the clinic.

“Not only does being uninsured make accessing health-related services challenging, but people who are uninsured disproportionately use emergency departments for the management of conditions that could easily be managed in the outpatient setting,” said Giannelli.

“Based on the average one-time emergency department visit cost of $1,389, free clinics save emergency departments an estimated $9.6 billion each year. When companies such as Quest help reduce barriers to care in uninsured populations, it allows clinicians to make realistic treatment plans that will help keep people out of the hospital, which is also good for our nation’s health care costs.”