Should You Explore Concierge Medicine?

Ever struggle to schedule a same-day appointment with the doctor of your choice? Or wait an hour to speak to a physician for only five minutes? Or check your voicemail repeatedly for test results or the answer to a simple question about a prescription?

If so, the rising trend of concierge medicine—in which doctors, for a typically annual retainer fee plus the cost of treatment, take on fewer patients in order to furnish more personalized, thorough service—may be an attractive choice, even at a premium price.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re contemplating concierge medicine.

What do concierge doctors offer?

Concierge physicians tend to provide primary care services, from routine tests to preventative checkups, with access to additional tests and services as needed. Insurance might cover routine services, but likely not for the retainer fee—although, depending on insurance, patients may be able to use a health savings or flexible spending account to pay the fee.

Typically, visits with concierge doctors are longer and tailored to your unique medical situation. Doctors may even offer house calls if needed.

What’s the advantage?

  • You can see your doctor when you need her. Beyond the typical option to schedule same-day appointments, many concierge doctors will provide you their email address and cell number for quick questions or after-hours attention.
  • They know you better. A recent study found physicians devoted only 27% of their day to direct face time with patients. Medical interns spend just 12% of their day examining and chatting with patients, according to a study from Johns Hopkins. Concierge medicine offers longer visits and a doctor who may have 500 patients instead of 2,000—freeing up plenty of time for more personalized attention.
  • You may get follow-ups faster. Seeing a concierge doctor can lead to quicker referrals to specialists as well as quicker test results—alleviating what can sometimes add up to weeks of anxiety.
  • A focus is on wellness, not illness. Many concierge doctors proactively monitor the health of their clients rather than simply diagnose ailments—and some even offer services that feel more spa-like in nature (such as massages, aromatherapy, etc.).

What does it cost, and how popular is it?

Fees vary and can be as high as $15,000 a year for doctors in expensive zip codes, but in one network doctors charge an average fee of $1,800 a year for concierge access.

The national trade publication Concierge Medicine Today estimates as many as 12,000 physicians offer concierge medicine. Another survey by healthcare search firm Merritt Hawkins found that 7% of physicians already offer concierge medicine, while more than 13% plan to transition at some point in their careers.

Will it make your healthcare experience better?

Research suggests people who use concierge medicine are more satisfied with their healthcare experience—though, it should be noted, they are not necessarily any healthier. Ninety-eight percent of people report concierge medicine improved communication with their healthcare providers, according to one survey, and a full 97% would recommend the service to a friend. Ninety-four percent of respondents say they wait for less than 15 minutes to see their doctor, on average.

Concierge medicine may also bolster some clinical outcomes. Experts, however, suggest this could be attributed to the reasonable proposition that people who seek out concierge care may be more proactive about their healthcare in general.

How is technology contributing to concierge medicine?

A range of tech developments designed to complement concierge offerings are coming online. For instance, one health startup in California—Forward—offers concierge medicine along with artificial intelligence that crunches patient data, aiming to make better diagnoses and offer better advice.

People also now use technology—such as sensors and mobile health apps that gather data about heart rates and the number of steps taken in a day—to track their health. Many patients can access their health records via a doctor’s online portal. And, of course, concierge medicine depends on a variety of basic communication technologies—text messages, email, video chat—so patients can communicate with doctors 24/7.

How do you find a concierge doctor?

Try the American Academy of Private Physicians’ Find a Doctor directory to locate a concierge doctor in your area. Concierge Choice Physicians and MDVIP also maintain concierge listings. Doctors who are members of the MDVIP network charge an average fee of $1,800 per year and see no more than 600 patients. And while traveling, you can see another MDVIP-affiliated physician if necessary.

Concierge medicine isn’t for everyone. Those who possess the ability to pay the retainer, however, may want to embrace this increasingly popular option for a more satisfying healthcare experience overall.

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