An IV treatment underway at CruzMedMo
An IV treatment underway at CruzMedMo.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Health & Wellness

Tests, vaccines and ... IVs? CruzMedMo’s service expansion includes IV therapy

CruzMedMo, the local medical group that offered day-of COVID-19 testing results during the Omicron surge, is expanding its services to include some new, trendy procedures. Will it continue to find success as COVID ebbs?

There’s a new needle-administered treatment coming to Santa Cruz, and it’s not a new COVID shot.

CruzMedMo, the medical group that rose to prominence in the county for its mobile vaccine administration and COVID-19 testing providing near-instantaneous results, is expanding its services to include more complex lab procedures. Most notably, IV therapy.

Starting this week, the company will offer various IV treatments for migraines, hydration, vitamin injections, and even hangovers. While IV therapy is currently its main focus, CruzMedMo says other procedures like rapid complete blood count and rapid urine testing could be on the horizon.

Founder Andrew Lewis conceived the idea of fast, mobile health care after more than 20 years as an urgent care doctor. He’d worked at Palo Alto Medical Foundation for 14 years, and having seen many patients with easily treatable conditions experience long waits and hidden costs at conventional medical facilities, he envisioned a quicker way to get necessary care.

“Really, the idea is that this can be sort of a ‘do-it-yourself’ health care system where you can opt for the doctor visit at the end if you feel you need it,” he said.

While Lewis is the only doctor on staff currently, the company now employs about a dozen people, including three medical assistants and two registered nurses.

CruzMedMo became a much more recognizable name this past winter during the Omicron surge, when it offered same-day COVID-19 testing results at a time when finding a test was difficult and frustrating. And if you found a test, it might take two to three long days to get a result, adding complications to busy work and family lives.

Under state and federal law, COVID-19 tests must be covered by insurance, and any provider that accepts coverage must...

Initially, in early 2021, Lewis planned a simple service: mobile urgent care. This aim: provide patients with efficient care, and a step — or multiple ones— to take before people with concerns might decide to see their general practitioner or to visit a hospital. CruzMedMo isn’t yet offering mobile urgent care, but Lewis says he plans to.

“Because of the pandemic we kind of jumped right into the laboratory side of things with offering tests,” he said.

While CruzMedMo uses similar testing technology to the standard PCR test used by larger institutions, its method skips a step that filters out extraneous materials in a collected sample. That means a faster result. While the result sensitivity, or accuracy, is somewhat lower than in the complete process, Lewis says that quicker turnaround time offsets any downgrade in sensitivity.

“Speed can trump sensitivity when tracking a contagious virus,” he said.

As the company first pivoted from mobile urgent care to COVID testing, it now pivots again as demand for COVID testing drops rapidly.

CruzMedMo founder Andrew Lewis
CruzMedMo founder Andrew Lewis.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

So while the IV treatments can be pricey — a large dose of the hangover aid can be up to $245 — there are no hidden costs, says Lewis.

Receiving the treatment is not as dramatic as the name might imply. A patient will come to the facility, disclose their health history, and choose from a menu of different mixtures of vitamins and herbs referred to as “cocktails.”

From here, the procedure is simple. The patient sits back and relaxes while the “cocktail” of their choice is administered via intravenous drip. The treatment typically takes 30 minutes to an hour, but the time varies depending on the chosen cocktail and dose.

IV therapy has gained popularity in recent years. Access has increased significantly, and the treatments are now available at many spas, lounges and wellness centers across the country. Some services will even come to your residence to administer the treatment, and this might be only the beginning. BCC Research analysts expect the global market for IV therapy to reach a value as high as $54.5 billion by next year.

However, IV therapy has been met with skepticism from some members of the medical community and government regulatory agencies. The “Myers Cocktail,” one of the many IV vitamin therapies available and the inspiration for CruzMedMo’s “Wellness Support” infusion, has been included in some lists of questionable treatments.

This skepticism is shared by some in the alternative medicine trade.

Eleonor Mendelson, a local doctor of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, did not question the efficacy of IV treatments to alleviate certain symptoms, but said patients should seek out a doctor’s opinion if their symptoms are concerning.

“You need to recognize when you have conditions with symptoms that may be treatable, but if you need intervention that Western medicine can offer, you need to do that,” she said.

Mendelson does not practice IV therapy herself, but, like Lewis, notes the popularity of alternative medicine in the area.

“I came to the United States from Israel to study Chinese medicine,” she said, adding that she has been in Santa Cruz since she entered the country over 20 years ago. “Santa Cruz is definitely a bubble. People here are very much into alternative medicine and holistic health.”

Mendelson, also the admissions director of Five Branches University in Santa Cruz, says her patients have no doubts in the process, however.

“People sometimes ask me where the evidence is or what the meridians (pathways of the body in Chinese medicine) are, and we just don’t have the tools for anyone to see them, but I think you cannot argue with success,” she said. “I tell them that Einstein developed his theory (of relativity), and it was not until many years later that the technology used to verify it was available.”

That said, Mendelson will not hesitate to refer patients to a doctor if she sees a need.

Despite IV therapy apparently gaining in popularity, combining traditional and alternative medicine in new ways, there is little official research to confirm the efficacy of such treatments. But Lewis said he is not concerned about that lack of studies.

A person gets an IV treatment at CruzMedMo
An IV treatment at CruzMedMo.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I don’t see where there’s any harm, and if there’s a belief in it, then that’s a good reason to offer it,” he said. “We’re only going to be using simple hydration solutions and various vitamin cocktails. We’ll be staying away from anything that raises even the slightest safety issues.”

“Some patients in the area will go to their acupuncturist or herbalist first and then seek out traditional care,” he said. “So because patients trust those practices and see results, we want to take any gray areas of that type of medicine and highlight what we know about them.”

“Human nature is to downplay severity,” said Lewis. “You have to be sure that our service is right for you, and if it isn’t, we will tell you to see a doctor.”