Let’s face it—our current health care economy and landscape is confusing (and I am a doctor!). With the recent election, health care reform has been front and center as an issue that is important to Americans. The primary goal of President Obama’s health care initiative is to make care available to a large percentage of the estimated 47 million uninsured Americans. So, how does that affect you and your family? How do you develop a relationship with a doctor who knows you, and is accessible and available when you or your family needs his or her attention? The answer for many of us lies in exploring private medicine.
Private medicine is the term for an alternative model of health care delivery where patients and doctors enter into a direct financial arrangement, in contrast to traditional insurance-only models. In exchange, the physician restricts their practice size so that they are more available to their smaller practice pool. While these practices vary in their offerings, typical amenities include the following:
- Communication immediacy with cell phone, email and text capability
- Same-day or next-day appointments
- Facilitated referrals to specialists to choose one that is the best fit
- Occasional accompaniment to specialty visits when medically appropriate
Other benefits of belonging to a smaller primary care practice include expanded time for visits, so that there is more emphasis on the time-intensive, but critical, issues of lifestyle modification (smoking, exercise, nutrition) and prevention. Private medicine represents a philosophical shift from reactive to proactive care. Below are some commonly asked questions about private medicine:
What is the difference between concierge medicine and direct primary care?
- Both models involve a direct financial relationship between doctor and patient.
- Whereas most concierge practices collect a retainer for membership into the practice, they also collect a fee for medical services (co-pays or cash for visits).
- The physician is often in direct contact with their patients.
- Direct practice is frequently described as “concierge medicine for the masses.”
- Direct practices charge a modest monthly fee (typically ranging from $40 to $100) and bypass insurance all together.
- Amenities for being a member of a direct practice include: expedited scheduling, telephone access after hours, email communication access and the inclusion of all of the direct practice doctor’s charges within the monthly fee.
- Direct practices often utilize practitioners such as physician assistants or nurses to aid in the delivery of efficient care.
Who is the ideal patient for a concierge medical practice?
Concierge medicine appeals to many types of individuals:
- Busy executives and business owners who prefer the immediate access
- Patients with complex medical issues who benefit from longer visit times and better care continuity
- Any patients interested in partnering with their doctor to improve their health with enhanced attention to prevention and lifestyle
- Families with children, and couples often appreciate the attention to the family unit. The concierge doctor can become a trusted confidante.
Where would I go to find a concierge doctor in my area?
There are many ways to research and find concierge doctors in your area. The American Academy of Private Physicians is a national organization of independent doctors that provide concierge care. AAPP is an excellent resource to patients who are looking for a doctor in their area. Check out their website at www.aapp.org for more information.
Being an empowered health care consumer is all about understanding options and exploring market offerings. For the same price as your cable bill or a Starbucks everyday, you and your family can enjoy the peace of mind of a doctor who has the luxury of time to help when you need it.
Pamila Brar is a concierge doctor practicing in La Jolla, and a board member of the American Academy of Private Physicians.