Swab sisters act
Experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19 is already stressful enough. And to disprove one’s fears, he or she will need to muster the courage to take THE test. A nasal swab, in particular the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, is so invasive that one would probably conjure an image of an overly long cotton bud getting too deep into the head and touching the brain.
But for Be Safe MD Medical Clinic and Laboratory, the aim is to make things a little bit comfortable for patients.
“Inhale,” says Be Safe MD managing partner Ma. Christina Angela “Ina” Soriano-Bautista, explaining what the individual taking the test just needs to do. “Then [we] poke [insert swab up the nose].”
Some people have reported less discomfort with this simple trick, but it’s really the care that the lab incorporates that makes all the difference. And by care, it means the lab makes sure that patients have easy access to efficient services at a time when going out is such a risk to life and sanity.
“Customer service can be a cliche but it really is truly appreciated when calming stressed clients. It makes a difference, too, that doctors explain everything they need to know,” she notes.
Be Safe MD was first a mobile lab that Bautista’s sister, Ma. Rosario Andrea “Isa” Soriano and the latter’s partner, Diego Dator, started in the early months of the pandemic.
Fresh from medical school, both were at a loss as to how they could help the country in its battle against the virus, considering they did not have practical hands-on hospital experience just yet, plus a lack of direction from the government in terms of protecting its health workers.
“Back in April 2020, a couple in our chat groups sought help as to how they can access flu and pneumonia vaccines as additional defense against COVID-19. Having interned at a hospital not too long ago, Isa was able to use her network to source the vaccines for the couple,” Bautista says.
Two months after, Isa and Diego began the Safe Mobile Diagnostics, offering vaccines by visiting the homes (or companies) of family, friends and other individuals.
The demand was so high they were able to earn enough to buy a second-hand van that allowed them to go from one place to another and provide services for those who needed to get tested for COVID-19 without queuing up in hospitals.
“As the global pandemic continues to disrupt countless lives, it is not enough that we just follow safety protocols anymore. The first step to get protection against COVID-19 is to get properly tested. But how can you get properly tested for the virus when you run the risk of catching it when you go outside the safety of your own home,” Bautista says.
She says the success of the mobile clinic inspired her and another sister, Ma. Socorro Theresa or Ica, to help their youngest sister expand the services offered. Ina, a communications consultant at one of the multinational firms in the country, and Ica, a teacher, tapped all financial resources available to organize Be Safe MD and absorb and manage the operations of Safe Mobile Diagnostics.
Bautista says she was so inspired by the dedication of the doctor in their family, that she knew it was time to expand the operations.
“The youngest of five siblings, Doc Isa surprisingly turned out to be the most passionate in things she believes in. She is an advocate of special children’s rights. She is also vocal on government issues. She’s petite with a baby face, people sometimes ask her if she’s really a doctor, and she would go on to prove their biases wrong,” says Bautista, the eldest of the brood.
Other members of the family also pitched in, lending their vehicles and driving medical technicians (med techs) all the way to Cavite and Laguna provinces to service patients.
Bautista does not want to call Isa spoiled, but it’s this love from the family that she says taught the youngest the essence of compassion—which is very much needed at this time of crisis.
Be Safe MD also just opened a drive-thru and walk-in lab called “Drive to Swab” at 108 Kamuning, Quezon City, near Edsa offering various services from doctor consultations to laboratory tests and vaccinations for flu, pneumonia, rabies, HPV, etc.
Be Safe currently has three doctors and 20 medical technologists.
Bautista believes people will still need these medical services even after the pandemic, with people now more conscious of their health.
The mobile lab will also continue for as long as its services are needed.
“The tests are in demand now for health, safety, employment and travel purposes. Even those who need to be confined in the hospital need negative (COVID-19) medical certificates,” she says.
She recalls a pregnant woman who began laboring after being swabbed “and we had to rush her results in six hours or by 3:00 a.m.”
Safe Mobile is currently offering RT-PCR testing for P4,200, with results available in 18-24 hours. It also offers antigen nasal swab testing for P1,600 and antibody blood prick for P1,200. (For details, contact +63 917 877 0415. They are also available on Facebook as “SafeSwab.PH” and Instagram as “drivetoswab”)
For at-home swab services, the clinic charges an additional P1,000 for personal protective equipment, transportation and administration expenses for bookings of less than five individuals. Corporate discounts are also offered.
Bautista admits that RT-PCR tests are still very expensive, but they offer relatively cheaper prices compared to hospitals. Their advantage, she says, is still the comfort of the patient who can be tested right in his or her home.
She says the amount also covers the hazard pay, food and transportation of doctors and med techs. “Just like in food delivery, we also get bogus bookings. Imagine the effort and time of our team going to your requested location only to find out it’s canceled. We could have used the time assisting those who critically need us.”
Bautista doesn’t want to think of all this as business. “The pandemic will end and each one just has to contribute to make this a reality. We are all for ending the pandemic.”She advises Filipinos not to let their guard down and get tested when necessary.
“The slight pain for a second can help save lives,” she adds.