Concierge Medicine: The Future of Healthcare?

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Concierge medicine can provide quick, if not immediate, access to care and thorough visits by the physician.
Concierge medicine can provide quick, if not immediate, access to care and thorough visits by the physician.

Concierge medicine fills an important and growing niche in today's medical marketplace, appealing to thousands of physicians around the country and the scores of patients they serve.

Concierge medicine is defined as “a subscription-based form of healthcare delivery in which a physician provides medical care to patients, for various services not covered by their health insurance, which generally involves: providing 24/7 access; a cell phone number to connect directly with their physician; same-day appointments; visits that last as long as it takes to address their needs; and varying other amenities. In exchange for this enhanced access and personal attention, the concierge physician receives a subscription fee.”

There is a growing recognition among healthcare consumers that getting in to see their primary care physician (PCP) in a timely fashion is getting harder and harder these days, and the time that PCPs can offer each patient seems to be ever-dwindling.

Enter concierge medicine, in which the patient pays an additional fee for quick, if not immediate, access to care and receives a substantially longer and more thorough visit with his or her physician in the bargain.

In a medical marketplace that is increasingly dominated by consumerism, concierge medicine gives many patients an attractive alternative to urgent care or the ER as the traditional safety net of primary care is eroded by a relative shortage of PCPs in many parts of the country – leaving an increasingly heavy burden on the PCPs who remain.

But is concierge medicine a panacea for our broken healthcare system? Probably not. In fact, criticisms have been leveled at this model of medical care, mostly because it is seen as too costly, taking an additional bite out of consumers' wallets.

Yet many patients see concierge medicine as going first class, but with much less chance of turbulence as they navigate their way through an often-choppy healthcare system. Many, certainly, are willing to pay extra for a demonstrably smoother ride.

To find out more about concierge medicine, I turned to Andrea Klemes, DO, FACE, chief medical officer of MDVIP, a concierge medicine company in Boca Raton, Florida that has grown into a national network of more than 940 MDVIP-affiliated physicians now serving more than 270,000 patients. She quickly dispelled the popular notion that concierge medicine excludes all but the well-to-do.

“Our company works with patients from all walks of life – white collar, blue collar, executives,” she says. “The model is complementary to commercial insurance and Medicare. The demographic range we serve is very broad. We offer our patients affordable, personalized care. While there are some very exclusive concierge medicine companies charging their patients $20,000 to $30,000 or more per year, our average cost to patients is between $1650 and $1800 annually. And we offer payment plans, so patients don't have to pay the annual cost all at once.”

Concierge medicine offers more than quicker access to care, explains Dr Klemes. “Our doctors have smaller patient panels. Patients can develop a deeper relationship with physicians. There can be a much greater emphasis on prevention and wellness – not just acute care. Physicians can get to know their patients better, and spend more time with each patient.”

One often heard criticism of concierge medicine is that it further drains the pool of dwindling primary care talent by pulling internal medicine and family medicine physicians away from more traditional primary care practices. According to Dr Klemes, this view is misguided.

“Many physicians were ready to leave medicine prior to going into the concierge medicine model,” she explains.  “They were finding that the emphasis on high patient volume and greater efficiency in medical care was making it hard for them to take care of patients as they would like.”

According to Dr Klemes, concierge medicine has kept many PCPs in the game by seeing and caring for patients – good physicians who might have otherwise bailed on medicine altogether.

And what about cost? Does concierge medicine simply add another layer of cost to an already incredibly expensive healthcare system?

Dr Klemes thinks not.

“Our research shows that the MDVIP model actually saves the system money,” she explains. “For example, with MDVIP-affiliated practices, there are fewer hospital admissions and re-admissions. There is better continuity of care all the way around – for instance, when patients are discharged from the hospital, they can be seen almost immediately, all medication changes can be implemented, and any necessary post-discharge care can be more efficiently and effectively managed by a physician who already knows the patient.”

"This model can potentially save the healthcare system hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” she adds.

It really boils down to patients having timely access to personalized care – and care of high quality.

“Access to appropriate care when needed, and having the ability to spend adequate time with one's personal physician, are really more important than simply having a PCP,” says Dr Klemes. “Anyone can be assigned to a PCP on one's insurance panel. But at the end of day, this doesn't guarantee access to, or quality of, care. By contrast, concierge medicine can provide timely access to care while meeting metrics for quality of care, and scoring consistently high on patient satisfaction surveys as well."

Considered in this light, concierge medicine may be just the ticket.

Andrea Klemes DO, FACE, chief medical officer, MDVIP, Boca Raton, FL.

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Reference

  1. CMTDPC Journal. Insights & Analysis: Definitions of concierge medicine. Concierge Medicine Today. Updated July 19, 2017. https://conciergemedicinetoday.org/2017/07/01/insights-analysis-definition-of-concierge-medicine/. Accessed August 14, 2017.
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