By Carolyn Susman, Special to the Daily News
NOVEMBER 19, 2013 – When I heard that Dr. Earl Campazzi Jr. was becoming a private physician, also known as concierge medicine or VIP, I realized how confusing those terms can be.
As the American Association of Retired Persons says on its website, aarp.org,it can involve an array of services that vary with the doctor you see.
Campazzi, who has been associated with Island Medical Care for seven years, has chosen to convert to a type of doctor/patient care that includes an annual fee of $3,000 and separate payments for visits.
“This (per-visit) fee is on-par with a dinner out in Palm Beach,” Campazzi said. “Put in that context many realized the value.” He said he isn’t accepting insurance but will give patients reimbursement forms to submit to their insurers.
But Campazzi’s approach is not the only way concierge physicians do business.
I like the way AARP summarizes the different available private practices as “medicine that comes in nearly as many flavors as does ice cream.
“In some practices, patients pay an annual fee and also pay for office visits; in others, the annual fee pays for all in-office care. In what’s called a hybrid practice, the doctor continues to see all patients but sets aside a few hours each day for patients who pay an extra fee. Some practices bill for insurance reimbursement; others have gone off the insurance grid.”
It’s enough to make your head spin.
Essentially, in most cases, you are paying for the right to have your doctor on call for email, phone calls and house visits, which can be very appealing to those who can afford it.
This service isn’t new, although – as AARP reminds us – it can vary. Probably most well-known in the Palm Beach area is MDVIP, a network of physicians formed in 2000 in Boca Raton.
It refers to its network as providing personalized, primary care that focuses on preventive care and wellness. Doctors are individual providers – not employees of MDVIP – but agree to limit their practices to 600 patients, according to its website, MDVIP.com.
The program also includes, “partnering with nationally renowned medical institutions to create the Medical Centers of Excellence program. Through this program, your doctor can easily connect with the experts at these institutions to help you get a second opinion, consultation or specialized treatment whenever needed.” They partner with the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins, among others.
Another network of concierge physicians – the American Academy of Private Physicians – thinks this area of medicine will grow as more patients become enrolled with health insurers through the Affordable Care Act.
The typical primary care physician, its website, aapp.org, says, handles up to 4,000 patients and this is likely to become a tipping point toward concierge practices as demand for doctors grows.
“With such high patient volume for primary care doctors, even patients who have insurance do not necessarily get good care,” according to the Private Physicians academy.
But the demand for doctors is exactly why some consider concierge medicine problematic. It removes doctors from the physician pool. Some even think it can lead to overdiagnosis and over-treatment of patients.
Campazzi, who will offer seasonal memberships for Palm Beachers who leave town during the summer, agrees that the demand for doctors is driving many physicians to concierge medicine.
Ideally, the choice of what type of health care a patient wants should be up to the patient. Not everyone, though, can afford a $3,000 membership in an exclusive doctors’ club. But for patients who can, this may provide a good approach.