HealthZette

Gold Karat Health Care

Concierge medicine's pricey win

This is not your grandfather’s waiting room.

Walk into Cure Concierge in Malibu, California, and you think you’ve walked into heaven. There are glossy white walls, white floors, hip music, a beautiful receptionist, and floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out over the Pacific. If you’re thirsty, there’s a mini-fridge stocked with Perrier and Evian. Healthy snacks, power bars, nuts, fruit are all tastefully laid out.

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Cure Concierge’s “no wait” waiting room is filled with healthy treats, mineral water, even champagne.

But you won’t have time to graze, because you won’t be waiting long at all.

Dr. Lisa Benya, your concierge doctor, has received your call about your latest health complaint and has told you to come in to see her. Not next week, not two months from now, but now.

Such personalized care (hence the term concierge) comes with a hefty price tag: There is a $6,000 annual membership fee, at least in this location (the average concierge care annual fee is considerably less). This fee buys you 24/7 doctor access, home visits, and longer and more personalized appointments. Some 75 percent percent of concierge doctors accept health insurance, while the rest have cash-only practices.

“This is the way medicine used to be practiced before the business of medicine got in the way,” Benya said.

Think of Robert Young as “Marcus Welby, M.D.” Kindly, caring family physicians carried their doctor’s bags to make house calls.

Concierge care promises a return to those simpler times, when doctors and patients enjoyed an unhurried, personal, and ongoing relationship.

It’s not just the patient who benefits from this investment in concierge medical care.

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Higher-end concierge medicine services offer more spa-like amenities, such as Cure Concierge’s IV Therapy.

Doctors can significantly reduce their “patient panel” by switching to the concierge model for patients willing to pay $1,650 to $25,000 a year. Doctors get a more manageable workload and more time to dedicate to each patient. Gone is the frantic pace of trying to see more than 50 patients a day.

“Hands down, concierge medicine is a win-win for both doctor and client,” Benya told LifeZette. “The immediate and direct access to the doctor, along with the time, energy and resources available to care for the client, ensures that concierge clients receive all the attention to their health that is needed. It is the way medicine used to be practiced before the business of medicine got in the way.”

The statistics back up her statements.

  • Number of concierge doctors in 2012: 4,400, up 30 percent from 2011
  • Salary of primary care physicians: $156,000 to $315,000
  • Salary of concierge physicians: $150,000 to $300,000
  • Percentage of concierge physicians who accept insurance: 75 percent

The fact that concierge doctors earn less, on average, than primary care physicians suggests isn’t just for the rich and famous in celebrity hubs like Malibu.

Dr. James “Burt” West is a concierge doctor in Roswell, Georgia, who said a modern concierge practice has taken him back in time.

“My dad was an internist, and I’d often go with him when he made house calls,” West said. “Today, once again with this model, it feels like I’m a small country doctor, and I consider my patients family members.”

Office visits are a minimum of 30 minutes and up — not the seven- to eight-minute quickie appointments generally found in traditional practices.

West is affiliated with MDVIP, “the largest network of primary care physicians practicing in this model with six published, peer-reviewed articles showing better outcomes and savings to the overall healthcare system.”

The numbers for MDVIP’s system are comforting. Reduce “patient panel” from 2,500 – 4,000 patients down to a maximum of 600 patients. The annual membership of $1,650 to $1,800 can be paid quarterly, semi-annually or annually. Office visits are a minimum of 30 minutes and up — not seven or eight minutes total with long waiting periods found in traditional practices.

Concierge medicine done right takes 21st century citizens back a few decades to simpler times, when the bureaucracy and paperwork were less complicated, primary care was less hectic and less stressed, and patients enjoyed an unhurried, ongoing relationship with a doctor — sometimes from birth to death. Concierge care is bringing that relationship back, and more and more Americans are willing to pay extra to improve their quality of their short-term and long-term care.