There was a time when private medicine was a privilege reserved only for the rich and famous—the idea of paying a doctor a retainer that could run several thousand dollars a month was out of reach for most middle-class families in America. As the healthcare landscape has shifted over the past couple of decades and more and more doctors are looking for ways to provide the highest level of patient care at a cost that everyone can afford, the concept of private medicine practices has also changed.
The Private Medicine Model
While there is no specific way that a private physician must operate his or her clinic, there are a few things that most private medicine practices have in common:
- Patients pay a monthly, quarterly, or annual fee for access to basic care, such as check-ups and doctor’s appointments. In many cases these offices offer additional tests and services at a discount because they don’t bill insurance companies. While patients are still encouraged to carry insurance for catastrophic illness, insurance is not required for basic care.
- Doctors reduce the volume of patients in their clinic to about 10-20 percent of a “normal” primary care physician’s patient load so they can provide more comprehensive care to the patients they do have.
- Physicians promise patients 24/7 access through email, cell phone, and even social media.
- Patients are able to get same-day or next-day appointments any time they call.
- With fewer patients, doctors can spend more time with each patient helping them manage chronic diseases or improve overall health and wellness.
Eliminating the need for insurance and all the paperwork and overhead costs that come along with it allows these doctors to streamline their practice so they can focus more on patient care, which is something most doctors would prefer to do anyway. Other perks like comprehensive annual physicals and the ability to ask questions day or night help patients feel like they are in control of their care.
Affordable Fees Bring in New Patients
Several decades ago the annual or monthly retainer fee for a private physician could run several thousand dollars a month. As the cost of healthcare has skyrocketed over the years and more and more families are without insurance, private doctors have started to reduce their rates to welcome more people into their practices.
A recent study revealed that in some areas of the country as much as 20 percent of the population has avoided seeing a doctor in the past year because the cost was too high. Today’s private medicine practices provide patients with basic primary care for a fraction of the cost, with average retainer fees between $130-$150 per month (a cost lower than most insurance plans), with some as low as $50 or less.
Private physicians like to think of healthcare the same way that we do car maintenance—people purchase insurance for catastrophic events, but pay for regular and preventive maintenance without involving the insurance company. Concierge medicine can be the same, limiting the cost of insurance by taking care of the basics out of pocket at a much more affordable cost.
A Better Approach to Care
The private medicine approach has shown tremendous benefits for both doctors and patients alike. Many doctors who go into primary care quickly become disillusioned with the profession, seeing dozens of patients every day for only a few minutes, and providing episodic treatment for patients who are sick without being able to offer ongoing comprehensive care and disease management. Patients are also frustrated with the long wait times to even get into most primary care offices and the limited time they have to interact with the doctor.
Physicians who have introduced a model for private medicine find that by reducing the patient load and charging an affordable monthly fee, they rediscover their passion for patient care, while the people who are members of the private practice can get the level of care they expect from their physician.