Most patients today are familiar with the traditional model of primary care. That is, they belong to a medical practice where the doctor carries a large patient load (several thousand patients), schedules dozens of appointments every day, and spends very little time with each patient.
However, there is another way that you can receive care, and in many cases patients are finding that it offers several perks and benefits that the traditional model for care delivery does not. It is called concierge medicine, and here is a quick comparison of how it differs from the primary care model that you already know.
There is a myth that concierge medicine is only for the very wealthy, or that it costs several thousand dollars per month. The truth is that it is becoming more and more affordable for families at all income levels who want better care.
Private Medicine: Most concierge doctors charge a retainer or fee to be part of the practice. This generally does not take the place of insurance, and is an additional cost beyond what you are paying to your insurance provider. Fees are paid annually, quarterly, or monthly, and can range from as low $600 to as much as $15,000 or more per year. With many preventive care needs covered under the retainer, patients often find they can change their insurance coverage to a high deductible plan just to cover catastrophic illness, which may even reduce your overall healthcare costs each year.
Public Medicine: Patients of a traditional practice will often use insurance to pay for care, and the average insurance premium paid by employees in 2011 (since a majority of patients get insurance through their employer), according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, was $921 for an individual and $2,124 for a family. In addition, doctor’s visits often require a co-pay ranging from $15 to $40 per visit, and if you need any additional procedures, you will have to pay out of pocket until you reach your deductible.
Appointment Wait Time
One of the perks that many patients appreciate with concierge doctors is the ability to get same-day or next-day appointments any time you call.
Private Medicine: The average wait time for patients to get an appointment is less than 1 day for members of private medicine practices. In addition, many private physicians offer patients the ability to contact them 24/7 by phone, email, and on social media to get immediate answers to questions and concerns.
Public Medicine: Wait times to get an appointment vary depending on where you live, but the U.S. average is 20.3 days—nearly three weeks—according to the Associate of American Medical College’s Center for Workforce Studies. If you have a chronic condition or something serious occurs, waiting three weeks could significantly affect your health.
Focus of Care
Traditional primary care physicians are required to carry very high loads of patients in order to make a living, which means less time to spend with each patient. That often translates to a different focus when they meet with each patient.
Private Medicine: Your physician will generally spend at least 30 minutes with you, and up to 60 minutes each year during your annual physical. The focus is on managing any chronic conditions you have and preventing future health complications through a comprehensive health and wellness plan. This model also allows for better follow-up since patients can keep in touch with doctors via cell phone, email, and social media. Studies have shown that this translates to as much as 53% fewer hospital visits for concierge patients.
Public Medicine: When the doctor has to see as many as 50 patients per day, he or she will only have about 10 to 15 minutes to spend with each patient, and the focus is on treating existing diseases with little or no attention paid to preventive care. Generally that means offering a quick prescription or treatment with little or no time spent reviewing medical history and examining symptoms from a holistic perspective.
There are several key differences between private and public primary care physicians. If you like the idea of having better access to your doctor, and a more in-depth doctor-patient relationship, concierge medicine just might be right for you.