By Chris Warren –Late last fall Kathleen Fields woke up on a Saturday morning with what she reckons was the worst sore throat of her life. It was so bad, she says, that even the idea of speaking with a doctor was physically unimaginable—that is, of course, if she could get one on the line at all, a downright laughable idea in these days of waiting weeks or longer for a regular appointment. So, here is what Fields did: She picked up her phone and texted her doctor, Kevin Comfort. “He was responsive on the weekend and quickly gave me advice about what to do,” says Fields, who is a partner at an area CPA firm.Fields is full of stories about the benefits of being a patient of Dr. Comfort. There was the time recently when her elderly father, also a patient of the doctor, suffered a fall in the assisted living facility where he resides and Comfort paid him a visit. Then there are the calls she receives from the doctor’s office reminding her to schedule her annual physical. Even the visits themselves are, well, different. “I walk in and within two or three minutes I’m called back,” she says. “I never feel like I’m rushed or that he has to hurry up.”The hyper-personalized, attentive and preventative care Fields receives from Comfort is an example of what’s known as “concierge” medical services. In a nutshell: People like Fields pony up around $1,500 per year as a membership fee to be a patient of Comfort or one of several hundred physicians nationwide—including five in San Antonio—affiliated with the concierge medical service provider, MDVIP. Although that membership fee is not covered by insurance, her doctor visits and all other medical care are.What the added fee provides, both for doctor and patient, is precious time. Indeed, the economics for primary care doctors—who are seeing reimbursements from Medicare and private insurance decline—are such that many have to have thousands of patients to remain financially viable. Comfort says his shift to MDVIP allowed him to go from around 3,000 patients to less than 500 (he’s not allowed to have more than 600). “The way medicine has evolved in traditional practice. The average physician gets eight to 10 minutes with a patient, and I wanted to take as much time as I needed,” says Comfort.
Although his sort of service involves an added fee for patients, another form of concierge care is looked upon as a way to save companies money.
Barclay Wong, director of administration for law firm Cox Smith, says his company enlisted the services of Austin-based WhiteGlove Health as a way to reduce health care expenses. “Our company is self-insured,” says Wong. “Once the employee has paid the co-pay portion, the company is responsible for the balance for in-network providers. If the provider is out of network, the company pays the balance after the applicable deductible.”
In an effort to reduce doctor or emergency room visits for routine matters, Cox Smith hired WhiteGlove, which sends nurse practitioners to the company offices or even to an employee’s home whenever they require basic medical attention. “They love the convenience and the accessibility,” says Wong. “I think I’d have a mutiny if I tried to get rid of them.”
This article appears in the January 2013 issue of San Antonio Magazine