If you have ever walked into a “concierge” practice, also known as a “boutique” or “private-physician” medical practice, you may have noticed something remarkable. There is no waiting room. No overwhelming paperwork. No rush. Instead, there is a responsive physician, same-day appointments, and less stress than a visit to a traditional medical practice. This idea of “personalized care” is growing in popularity. Evidently, half-hour visits with the doctor and extensive annual physicals that can take half a day have been deemed worthy by those in search of more from their health care.
Challenging the Norm
This is a clear departure from traditional practice, and something that many doctors and patients would like to see become more widespread. Concierge medicine is a form of care where the physician chooses the number of patients he or she treats. The maximum usually ranges from 300 to 600 patients per doctor, a third of what a physician might see in a more traditional medical setting. In turn, concierge patients, who pay on average $1500-$2000 a year, in addition to their health insurance costs, get to see their doctor whenever they want. Some of these forward-thinking practices even include unlimited visits, free medical testing, and house calls. If you join a concierge medical practice, you may even get your doctor’s cell phone number.
Advantages and Disadvantages
There were some 4400 concierge doctors in the US in 2013, approximately 30% more than there were just a year prior, according to the American Academy of Private Physicians. A concierge medical practice gives physicians time to truly get to know their patients, allowing them to provide individualized care on a one-to-one basis. Some health policy makers are very encouraged by this direction. An improvement in the patient-doctor relationship can emphasize prevention and make a difference in a person’s overall well-being. There’s also the opinion that more affordable, directly paid physicians will lead to a better health care system in the US, one that provides patients with a high level of care.
Proponents of concierge medical practices insist that more time with each patient allows physicians to keep their members healthier. One concierge practice estimates that this form of medical care could save the country billions of dollars, claiming its own clients visited emergency rooms 65% less than similar patients of traditional practices.
The approach does have its critics, though. Some feel that concierge medicine exacerbates the gap in health care between the haves and the have-nots. When doctors do transition to a concierge practice, they often reduce their patient rosters by as much as 80%, leading some critics to argue that there simply aren’t enough concierge-care physicians to go around.
Growing at a Rapid Clip
Most experts say this type of health care’s perceived advantages will only grow in the coming years. Data from a recent national survey analyzing practice patterns of nearly 14,000 physicians found that 1 in 10 traditional practice owners were planning to make the move to a concierge medical practice within the next 3 years. By cutting overhead and transaction costs, a primary care physician can save thousands of dollars annually, which can then be used toward improving his or her own private practice. A concierge doctor also takes on fewer clients and spends more individualized time with each one of his or her patients, something traditional health care services can’t afford to do. From lowering costs to improving the quality of care, for those patients who can afford it, this private-physician style of practice certainly has its charm.
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