Is Concierge Medicine Right For You?

There are a few pearls of wisdom gathered from across the ages that could be applied to the current situation in healthcare at the moment. For instance, Necessity is the mother of invention. Or maybe even, Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Those might not be entirely accurate, and I’m sure there are about 15 others that could be applied, depending on mood or whim, but the point is: things are changing. Prices are rising for patients, expectations are growing for healthcare providers, and not everyone is getting on board with some of the adjustments that might be necessary to meet patient needs.

And of course, old concepts are being redefined and re-evaluated. Concierge medicine is one such concept.

When you hear the word “concierge”, you probably flash to the same conclusion I did: expensive. But the fact is, in comparison to some of the deductibles and pricing plans out there today in healthcare, having your own, dedicated concierge doctor is actually becoming more affordable.

There are two main types of concierge medicine:

Retainer-based – This is the more commonly expected “concierge” doctor service. The fees have become more reasonable and roughly 80 percent of concierge physicians accept insurance for more complicated visits and procedures.
Direct primary care (DPC) – Doctors offering this service do not generally accept insurance in an effort to reduce overhead costs, as insurance processing can account for a significant portion of the costs in most practices. The cost and range of services vary per direct care physician.
In essence, concierge medicine can be defined as healthcare services with a direct financial relationship between patients and doctors.(i.e. they’re cutting out all the in-betweens, like support staff and sometimes insurers).

There was a time, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, when concierge doctor services might cost $550 a visit and as much as $30,000 a month for retainer fees. Recently, however, even the “A-list” concierge doctors have realized the practicality of tapping into the middle class market and creating a more reasonable pricing scale for everyday patients. The same doctor who charged on the scale mentioned above, Samir Qamar of Monterey, California, left VIP medicine in 2012 to introduce a more practical alternative. His company, MedLion, now offers concierge medicine for a $59 monthly membership—far more accessible for the average patient.

The market for concierge medicine has been growing for a while now, too. The number of concierge doctors quintupled, between 2005 and 2010, to more than 750 doctors. By 2013, that number had increased to 5,000 or more physicians offering DPC or concierge services across the United States. Estimates for 2014 indicated the total had grown beyond 12,000.

Many factors could have contributed to this growth, but some speculate that the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, which increased the number of insured Americans by more than 30 million, was the main cause. Patients who are insured are far more likely to visit a physician—which is definitely a good thing—but the number of insured patients now heavily outweighs the number of practicing physicians across the U.S., causing some patients to have longer wait times to see the physician and less personal one-on-one time. However, for patients who want to retain regular access to a medical professional and are prepared to pay a bit extra each month or year in retainer fees, that accessibility can be maintained.

While there are certainly some heavy pros and cons for concierge medicine, the concept is a good one for today’s market. If you’re struggling to gain access to a physician in your area, it couldn’t hurt to check out local concierge services nearby. With more than two-thirds of concierge and DPC practices charging less than $135 per month on average, quick and ready access to a medical professional could be well within your reach.