Before Starling Diagnostics, access to diagnostic healthcare services for the Bronx’s Parkchester community was sparse. With the closest hospital a commute away, seeking care was a challenge for much of the population, often resulting in delayed diagnoses.
Since launching in March 2020, Starling has brought an array of high-quality subspecialized services and a comfortable environment to the epicenter of the community. We spoke with CEO and Founder Abdul Chowdhury, CCO George Chang, and Director of Operations Brian Tabulov, to learn more about how patients in the Bronx can now access personalized healthcare they can trust.
[DocPanel] What was the inspiration behind opening Starling Diagnostics?
We are located in one of the largest condo complexes in the United States, which is Parkchester in the Bronx, New York. I used to live in these complexes. I grew up here, went to middle school, high school, and also went to university in the Bronx. So I’ve witnessed, firsthand, how underserved this community is.
There’s a huge absence of not only premium specialty services – but also basic services. Specifically for the immigrant population. The potential to expand options and really reshape the way this community experiences healthcare was our driving inspiration to launch Starling.”
[DocPanel] What is this mission and philosophy of Starling Diagnostics?
Providing personalized healthcare is the backbone of our mission. In underserved neighborhoods, such as the one we are in, physician shortages make it very challenging for doctors to dedicate enough time to each patient. Filling that gap is a major focus of ours.
Even if we are 100 patients deep in the day, it is our mission to understand the healthcare journey of each and every person who walks through our doors. Starling is not going to do a test on you just to do a test.
From when a patient calls to make an appointment, to when they check-in, to when our tech is walking them through the steps of the procedure – we are designing a personalized process. We’re trying to hack the system here in these underserved neighborhoods. This is our first proof of concept site and that element of personalized healthcare is very important.
[DocPanel] Being that the community you serve has, historically, been neglected, how do you navigate building relationships with patients? Are there any challenges or advantages?
Healthcare is way too complicated and hard to maneuver. We want to be a hub; a lighthouse for the people in our community. Even if they don’t need our services, they are welcome to come to us for advice.
For example, some of the most common chronic illnesses in this area are diabetes and breathing problems, like asthma – but these are all treatable conditions. We’re helping people understand that this is not something they have to live with. If you have these issues, we want people to know that they can come to us for guidance on what they should do.
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[DocPanel] Starling has drastically expanded care options for women. Can you speak a bit about the motivation behind this initiative?
One of our greatest goals has been to create a safe space for the women in this community to seek preventative healthcare services.
In the past, the only options were large hospitals or the occasional corner pop-up diagnostic center. But women in the community didn’t feel entirely comfortable at these facilities and, as a result, weren’t seeking care. We have created a program dedicated to offering services such as 3D mammography, bone scans, and ultrasound.
Whether a patient comes in as a referral or a walk-in, our care doesn’t stop at the end of the exam. We built a program with a local hospital to ensure clinical issues are addressed promptly. For example, if a patient’s exam comes back with concerning findings – we help guide them with the next steps. That continuum of care is always in the back of our minds.
My mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Thankfully, we caught it at a stage where she was able to still seek care. But going through that process scarred me – we are in this industry yet finding the right doctors for each step of the way took a lot of time. If you’ve never done it before it’s difficult. A primary care physician might have recommendations but they are not going to help facilitate them.
At Starling, we are constantly growing that referral pattern and finding the right doctors for our patients to talk to to get that continuum of care.
[DocPanel] Starling Diagnostics opened its doors just before the pandemic hit. What were some of the challenges you faced from COVID 19 and how did you overcome them?
We’ve invested a lot of time and thought into the design of our site. Our center is 14,000 sq feet – which is double the size of any other facility around here.
We wanted to create a spa-like feeling and I think having achieved that has been a huge help in creating a safe environment despite the pandemic.
People can actually have a 6-foot distance from anyone in the facility at all times. They’re getting hospital-grade access to healthcare without having to pack into a tiny waiting room.
[DocPanel] What initiatives are currently underway that you’re particularly excited about?
An important initiative we are excited to be focusing on this year is preventive health. Historically, there hasn’t been a strong understanding or emphasis on such measures. For instance, there are a lot of habitual smokers here, yet most are unaware that they can get annual CTs to monitor the health of their lungs. The same goes for screening mammograms. But these preventive steps are so meaningful!
Screening is paramount to catching cancer at an early stage when it’s easiest to treat. It can literally mean life or death. People are thinking about these things in high-income zip codes, but not so much in other neighborhoods. That shouldn’t be the case. We’ve been teaming up with local hospitals to educate the community and spread awareness on how preventive screening can substantially increase your survival rate.
By using state-of-the-art equipment, we’re also ensuring our patients get the best quality images during their scans. Our goal is to make sure we capture everything the first time around. Our latest upgrade is our 3T MRI, which reduces scan time and gives more definitive images. We also have an X-ray and a 3D tomosynthesis machine that is known for its ability to detect more cancers. We have an ultrasound machine and a bone density machine. We are also working to launch a roll out for full-body MRI screening that patients can get once a year. It will include preventive screening for neuro, spine, abdomen.
We love technology and want to scale it to better serve our community.
That’s what attracted us to DocPanel. Their technology makes it possible for facilities to access expertise across every specialty. In an area such as this – where there’s a lack of specialists – that’s huge.
With DocPanel, we’re able to access neuroradiologists, breast imaging specialists, body imaging specialists, and more. This allows us to offer our patients the care they deserve.
[DocPanel] Since launching your services, what has been one of Starling’s biggest accomplishments?
One thing that we judge ourselves on is feedback. The experience of each person who walks into our facility is of utmost importance to us. So the moments that show us we’ve achieved our goal of providing a personalized healthcare experience are what we consider to be our greatest successes.
For example, we had a woman come in about a week ago for an MRI. She wanted an open machine, however, we don’t have one. (We have an advanced 3T MRI, which produces superior images but is a closed machine.) If you’re claustrophobic it’s really difficult to be inside of a closed MRI for the duration of an exam. She was concerned about this, so ended up not getting the exam.
After giving it a little more consideration, she came back to us yesterday and said “Okay, I really need this MRI.” She then asked Anna, who works at the front desk, “Can you sit with me and hold my hand while I’m in the machine?” Anna happily agreed and sat there and held her hand for 45 minutes until the exam was done. Afterward, the woman was so appreciative. These are the moments that hit home for us. This is what personalized care is and should be. This is why we are here.