Charlotte’s first hydration IV clinic raises concerns among some medical experts

08/11/2014 2:05 PM

08/11/2014 3:26 PM

Charlotte will soon be in the company of Chicago, Miami and New York City when it comes to curing hangovers and jet lag – and some medical experts aren’t happy about it.

On Thursday, the first hydration IV (intravenous) therapy clinic in Charlotte, Hydrate Medical, will open on East Boulevard. Treatments, which are 45-60 minutes long, consist of IVs filled with water and specialized mixtures of vitamins and oxygen. Treatments are said to help with dehydration from hangovers, athletic training, cold-like illnesses, jet lag and fatigue.

Hydrate Medical’s three founding Charlotte-based practitioners – Dr. Jonathan Leake, former paramedic Drew Harrill and nurse practitioner Keith Parris – say the treatment has some minor risks, like bruising and infection. Other medical experts say the risks may be more extreme.

Dr. Charles Cairns, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine, said the treatments given at hydration clinics have severe risks in this quantity and through this intake method, like kidney damage.

“Frankly, if you’re a candidate for IV clinic, you should probably just drink some water and take some (vitamin and aspirin) pills and you’ll be just as well off,” Cairns said.

Leake acknowledges intake of vitamins through IVs is not typical, but he said he and his partners have considered the risks and are minimizing them. Before treatment begins, patients will complete a brief medical history form, talk about the treatment with a physician, and the IV insertion site will be sterilized and numbed. Leake also said the clinic is using all-natural, preservative-free treatments to reduce the risk.

Treatments are $75 to $159 for in-clinic procedures.

“Being in emergency medicine for so many years, we’ve treated thousands of patients with dehydration,” Leake said. “By restoring hydration, we’re restoring people’s normal level of fluid faster.”

With the rise of urgent care centers and health clinics like CVS’s MinuteClinic, Cairns isn’t surprised that these clinics are growing in popularity. In 2013, Accenture, a global management consulting firm, reported that the total number of retail clinics could rise to 2,800 by 2015 from about 1,400 in 2012.

“The demand of health care is going up, and we can’t meet all of that demand,” Cairns said.

Even so, Cairns said he questions the motive behind these hydration IV clinics. Because of the risks, most physicians avoid using IVs unless it’s necessary, he said.

“Obviously there can be complications,” he said. “You can cause bleeding on-site (resulting in bruises) or infections. So we don’t like to put IVs in without a purpose for it.”

The ideal patient, Parris said, would be people in their 20s to 50s who don’t want to spend their day recovering from an illness or other condition. Patients might have just run a marathon and want to be properly hydrated. Or they might be recovering from a hangover.

When they go to Hydrate Medical, patients will walk into a spa-like environment with soothing music and leather chaises in each treatment room. They can choose from one of three rooms: the group room with flat-screen TVs, meant for larger parties, say a recovering bachelorette party, Leake said. The single room with soothing music. Or the VIP, with only two seats, designed for couples.

“We’re thinking we’ll be able to help those people bounce back quicker, get their strength back and get back to work,” he said.

Cairns said hydration clinics are usually created for proprietary reasons, not medical – meaning consumers are driving the market for a treatment they don’t need outside of a physician’s office. He says the IV treatments are not substitutes for seeing a doctor.

“If you’re sick enough to require an IV, should you be outside of that (health) care system?” he said. “If you have a high heart rate and dehydration, we want to know why.”

Parris and the other partners recognize this criticism, but they argue the hydration clinic is a more convenient option for busy Charlotteans who can’t afford to miss work.

“You have to drink 2 gallons of water for it to equal 1 liter of normal saline in your body,” Parris said. “If you’re hungover and sick or have a stomach virus, it’s hard to drink water. Your stomach is irritable. It’s a much quicker process to do it through the IV.”

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