By Lora Hines | November 21, 2013
For 87-year-old Houstonian Loudene Shields, paying an extra $150 per month to her doctor is worth the price.
Her doctor, Jonathan Shaffer, is shifting his traditional practice to a concierge medicine model, which guarantees patients more personal care and services in exchange for a monthly fee. Shaffer, one of three doctors at Sweetwater Medical Associates in Sugar Land, should complete the transition in the next 18 months.
“It’s a lot of money for me,” Shields said. “But I didn’t feel like I could give him up at this point in my life. He knows exactly what I need. I think my health at this point is the most important thing I have.”
Shaffer, 58, said he’s changing his practice to regain job satisfaction and increase time with patients. In his traditional practice, he saw about 25 patients per day, rushing from one to the next and spending hours after work reviewing cases. Since beginning his transition into concierge care a couple of months ago, his patient load has dropped to about 15 a day.
“The chief thing was my job was getting progressively more unsatisfying,” Shaffer said. “Any doctor who values the patient encounter is going to want to do this.”
He said he thinks concierge medicine could gain popularity as more people become insured under the Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have health insurance. Newly insured patients will crowd medical offices, increasing patient loads and reducing the time doctors spend with patients.
Few doctors in the Houston area, Texas and the nation provide concierge services. In a recent Texas Medical Association survey, 4 percent of almost 800 doctors said they provided concierge or cash-only care. The association is a professional organization with more than 47,000 members.
In the Houston area, at least four medical offices provide concierge services, including house calls, 24-hour doctor telephone access, weekend appointments and weight loss and exercise programs.
Across the country, about 5,500 doctors offer concierge services, according to the Concierge Medicine Research Collective, an independent health care research depository of Concierge Medicine Today. The most popular specialties in concierge medicine include primary care, cardiology and pediatrics.
According to the American Academy of Private Physicians, a nonprofit organization that supports concierge medicine, concierge care is becoming more affordable. Costs range from $200 to $20,000 a year, the group says.
“We’re mindful of the fact that it’s not for everyone,” said Wayne Lipton, founder of Concierge Choice Physicians of New York. “But it is within reach of many patients, not just drivers of Bentleys.”
Lipton’s company works with doctors and medical practices in 23 states. He said the practice of medicine for many doctors has become less personal and more basic as reimbursements for service dwindle and more patients are squeezed into the day.
He said some concierge practices charge as a little as $75-$250 a month. They also tend to accept insurance plans and Medicare.
“Advice and advocacy is really what you’re buying,” Lipton said.