Concierge Medicine Offers Personalized Approach

We live in a world of technology driven medical diagnostics, managed care plans that limit healthcare choices and a decrease in face-to-face contact with healthcare providers.

While most healthcare consumers continue to embrace traditional healthcare practices, some have retreated, thus avoiding the healthcare system altogether.

Others have sought out alternative practitioners and treatments, despite questionable effectiveness and high out-of-pocket costs to consumers. However, a growing trend may offer dissatisfied consumers an alternative choice in safe, quality healthcare.

The recent appearance of concierge or retainer medical practices now offer consumers more control over their own healthcare.  Since its beginnings, in the Seattle area during the late 90s, concierge medicine has grown nationwide.  Concierge practices can now be found in California, New York, Florida, St. Louis, Boston, Baltimore, and now Columbus.

While benefits may vary from practice to practice, concierge medicine operates as an exchange of retainer fees for personalized service.  Consumers pay an annual fee to their physician’s practice and in return, the physician agrees to limit the number of patients they treat, while offering more services than a traditional practice.  Concierge physicians typically limit their practice to 300 to 600 patients, compared to physicians in traditional practices servicing 2,000 to 5,000 patients.

Benefits include:

* Physician access 24/7 by cell phone or pager

* Same day appointments with no waiting

* Home or office visits, when medically necessary

* Emphasis on preventative medicine, including diet and exercise advice

* Accompaniment to appointments with specialists

* Health advice for travelers at home and abroad

* Yearly comprehensive physical exams

The response to this relatively new approach to healthcare service has been varied.  The American Medical Association has expressed concerns regarding concierge practices, especially ones recently converted from a standard practice format, in that it would require patients to pay the annual retainer fee or seek medical services elsewhere.

While the medical community’s response has been generally favorable, some physicians strongly object to this form of healthcare service, believing that physicians are changing to this practice model for personal financial and lifestyle reasons and not necessarily for better patient care. Other physicians are concerned that concierge practices will attract fairly healthy middle-aged patients only, thus causing physicians to lose their edge in terms of diagnostic skills.

Public detractors maintain that concierge medicine caters to the wealthy and that the expansion of such practices could threaten access to quality healthcare for people of lesser financial means. Initially, some members of Congress also objected to concierge practices for similar reasons.

However, politicians’ concerns seem to have waned as the number of these practices has been limited to date.  Public concern also contends that convenience and extended services do not necessarily translate into better healthcare for the consumer.

Proponents of concierge medicine say that more personal attention does yield better healthcare outcomes as proactive, unhurried preventative care results in fewer mistakes.

As is the case with much of healthcare today, the debate over plans and providers in relation to the overall health of the nation will continue.

Article originally appeared in Business First.