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.

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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.”