Concierge medicine offers swift access — for a price
Dr. Delicia M. Haynes, seen here recently in her office, is the owner of Family First Health Center in Daytona Beach. Haynes’ practice combines traditional family care and concierge services, a style of practice that, for a fee, provides patients with more personal service.
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 5:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 8:58 p.m.
As insurance companies have come to dominate health care services, frustrated doctors and patients have turned with increasing numbers to a different kind of practice known as concierge medicine.
“It’s a style of medicine where there is a relationship between the physician and patient. The patient gets an enhanced level of service for a retainer fee,” said Dr. Delicia Haynes, owner of Family First Health Center in Daytona Beach.
Haynes, a primary-care physician, describes her practice as a hybrid that includes concierge services and traditional primary family care.
“Concierge is for those, when something happens, who want assurance they can get to me, see me without delay,” she said.
Haynes is one of a small but growing number of physicians in the Volusia-Flagler area now offering concierge services.
Concierge medicine has been around nationally since the late 1990s and was initially marketed to affluent patients. Fees were $10,000 and higher.
But, with annual fees now down below $2,000 a year, more people can afford it and more doctors are practicing concierge medicine, said Tom Blue, the former executive director and now chief strategy officer for the Virginia-based American Academy of Private Physicians.
“There are 5,500 private physicians in some form of concierge practice. That’s up 25 percent from a year ago and growing 25 percent a year the past couple of years,” Blue said. “The reality is independent practitioners and small groups of doctors in primary care are unsustainable in this environment without seeing patients faster and faster. They are then confronted with selling out to a hospital or changing their business model.”
In Daytona Beach, Haynes said for a fee of $3,000 a year, a concierge patient can call or email her 24 hours a day, seven days a week and get same-day or next-day appointments. The patient also pays, either through an insurance plan or out of pocket, for the medical services they receive.
Haynes caps the number of concierge patients at 50 in order to also have time for her more numerous traditional practice patients.
“For me, the decision to add concierge medicine three years ago was patient driven,” she said. “I have many busy professionals and they would have to take a day to get in to see me. They were asking me if there was another way to come in and see me when they needed to be seen.”
For Dr. Jason Mercer, owner of Signature Healthcare of Volusia in South Daytona, the switch 10 years ago to a 100 percent concierge practice was also patient driven.
Prior to making the change, “I had 2,800 patients in a three-doctor practice,” said Mercer, a primary-care physician. “I was spending more time as a businessman managing the practice than practicing medicine and caring for patients. I was doing less doctoring and that is what I got in it for.”
Mercer now has no more than 300 patients at one time. Each one pays $1,700 a year for 24/7 access. Each patient also gets an annual 90-minute physical and consultation to develop a comprehensive health care plan that is preventative in nature.
Visits to Mercer are a minimum 30 minutes rather than 10 or 15 minutes at a traditional practice.
“This allows me to take better care of my patients,” Mercer said.
Boca Raton-based MDVIP, one of the largest national networks of concierge physicians, has added about 100 doctors a year in each of the past five years. MDVIP has 650 physicians that serve 200,000 patients paying $1,500 to $1,650 a year, said Dan Hecht, CEO.
There are 59 MDVIP-affiliated physicians in Florida and one in the Volusia-Flagler county area.
“Health care continues to become more and more complicated and bureaucratic,” Hecht said. “Doctors and patients are unsatisfied. Concierge practices are not ‘the’ solution. It’s ‘a’ solution”
Concierge critics contend it’s only for the rich, further divides the health care system and limits the number of doctors to care for the less affluent.
Supporters say it’s a matter of choice and family or personal priority. The monthly fee is equal to a cellphone or cable bill, they say.
“It’s $145 a month. Many can afford that by adjusting their budgets, eating out less,” said Mercer. “I have a former Wal-Mart employee as a patient. She just decides to make it a priority. She’s been with me 23 years.”
The impact of the Affordable Health Care Act on concierge practices is still unknown, but many say it will increase the number of patients and doctors in concierge practices.
“More people will be seeking this type care as Medicare and other insurance programs push for team care and less personal long-term patient-doctor relationships,” Mercer said. “We’ll also see more doctors making the switch as a way to maintain that same relationship. We go into general practice and family care to see kids grow up and take care of patients their whole lives. That’s becoming harder to do.”
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