What patient would not like immediate access to their physician, a "no-wait" waiting room, and plenty of time with the doctor in the exam room, all for an annual cost cheaper than many insurance plans. Of course, we are talking about concierge medicine. According to Dr. Steven C. Burns, MD, this new practice model can be a win-win for the patient and the doctor.
Recently I was able to meet with Dr. Burns in his office in Tempe, Arizona and ask him some questions about his concierge medicine practice that he transitioned to almost two years ago from a hectic 4000 patient family practice. In my short time in his waiting room, I noticed that patients were immediately seen as they came into the office. Also, the hustle and bustle of a large staff was missing, replaced by a few efficient employees.
Dr. Burns made the jump with a little nudging from MD VIP. MD VIP has perfected the 'private doctor" model and is now the largest concierge health-care practice company in the US. The company is entirely owned by Proctor and Gamble, which was a big comfort factor for Dr. Burns. At first, he went to a dinner, listened to a presentation, and took some time to think about the entire concept. "I must admit that I was a little nervous because I was betting my entire practice on this transition", states Dr. Burns. The company advertises, "We do the legwork" and "conduct a rigorous screening process" in choosing the doctors that become MD VIP affiliated. Once MD VIP had Dr. Burn's attention, an analysis of his practice was done to see if it would be compatible to the new model. IT ws determined that Dr. Burn's large family practice could work under the MD VIP model, and the transition plan was set forth. According to Dr. Burns, MD VIP pretty much takes care of the entire process, from holding patient signup meetings at the local Embassy Suites to handling the smallest detail of the transition.
In his previous practice, Dr. Burns used to spend the first minute of every patient visit apologizing for the long wait. Now there is typically only a few minutes wait at most. His practice now has 400 patients, 10% of his prior practice, and he has more time to spend with the patient and address any concerns. Each patient pays $1,500 annually. MD VIP will cap his practice at 600 patients so that he can continue to offer the high level of personalized care he currently offers.
When asked about benefits of the switch to a concierge practice, Dr. Burns states that immediately he was able to reduce the staffing and billing headaches. Other benefits include a profitable practice with happy patients that he is able to spend time with. It was obvious to me that the new practice model was certainly also less stressful.
As I sat with Dr. Burns discussing his practice I could not help but see some parallels to the transition of my own financial planning practice over two years ago from a commission and fee based practice to a fee-only practice. Rather than being compensated for a transaction as my prior practice primarily did, I am now compensated by an annual fee paid by our clients that covers the asset management, financial planning, retirement planning, and places me on call with my clients to give objective advice untainted by a commission. Moreover, like Dr. Burns, I believe that translates into more time with each client, better advice, less stress, and everyone is a lot happier.
A number of factors I believe are in place for concierge medicine to continue the rapid growth:
1. If healthcare reform staying in place, millions more American in the next two years will have insurance and be actively utilizing the healthcare system.
2. The physician shortage will continue, with AMA predicting a 90,000 physician shortage by 2020. Fewer medical students are opting for Primary Care, which makes this shortage even more dramatic.
3. Many physicians believe that health reform will only make the practice of medicine more difficult, with more increased volume, diminish financial viability and inadequate resources.
The concierge medicine model works best with primary care practices. The switch for a busy internist or family practice doctor to concierge medicine can only spell r-e-l-i-e-f.