PENN. “Concierge-style medical practice opens in Lancaster County”
By Lenay Ruhl, September 8, 2016 at 3:00 AM
Imagine having unlimited access to your doctor without having to make a copay for each visit.
When you go to your appointment, instead of a paper robe you’re handed a soft, warm robe and slippers. And as you’re in the exam room waiting for the doctor to come in, you’re sitting on a sheet instead of the typical crinkled paper.
A new medical practice has opened in Lancaster County that aims to provide personalized primary care to patients without relying on insurance.
Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine announced last week that it opened Novara, a concierge medicine primary-care practice, in partnership with Dr. Christopher Hager, a physician within the health system.
Although there are similar concierge models in Central Pennsylvania and around the country, Novara is among the first backed by a large health system. Indeed, it is also LG Health’s first concierge-style medical practice.
Novara operates out of a 1,650-square-foot space at 605 Richmond Drive, Suite 107, in the Shoppes at Richmond Square in Manheim Township.
Breaking down barriers
Novara’s goal is to personalize patient care by eliminating the standard barriers patients face, such as rushed visits.
A recent study funded by the American Medical Association found that for every one hour a physician spends with a patient, the physician spends another two hours updating the patient’s medical records and doing desk work.
Hager cited the study, pointing out that with the volume of patients coming into traditional medical practices in a day, it’s nearly impossible for physicians to give their full attention and significant time to each patient.
At Novara, patients will pay a flat monthly fee of $199 for tailored services, including unlimited access to Dr. Hager, instead of having to go through an insurance company approval to receive care.
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The membership fee also includes other services such as same-day or next-day office visits, personalized care that is tailored to a patient’s lifestyle and health goals, e-visits or telehealth services, and a variety of primary care services, such as lab testing and commonly prescribed medications.
The membership fee of $199 was selected after much research. Hager and LG Health/Penn Medicine considered factors such as expected patient volume and operating expenses, Hager said.
Novara will only take on between 500 and 600 patients in total, so that it can stay in line with its goal of providing personalized care.
“Once you drop the price, you’d have to increase the volume,” Hager said.
So far, Hager is the only physician at the practice. Also on staff are a nurse and a client relation specialist. He plans to add a part-time physician to work one day a week.
Patients will still need insurance coverage for services outside of the concierge practice, but Hager and his staff will help members navigate the health care system to access specialists and hospital services.
Membership fee = health care maintenance
Think of your health insurance like car insurance, Hager said.
Car insurance doesn’t cover maintenance costs like changing the breaks, new tires or oil changes.
“Health insurance should be the same way,” Hager said. “It should be used for the unexpected, when something big happens, but why are you paying for primary care that doesn’t need to be expensive?”
He used the example of a family with four children. If three of the children get pink eye and see a doctor, and then the fourth one also contracts pink eye – why does that family still have to pay to see the same physician for the fourth child when they already know the diagnosis and treatment option?
The answer is because the physician needs to be reimbursed for his or her time, so there has to be record of the appointment to submit to insurance. At Novara, the monthly fee includes such visits.
Hager, who grew up in the Midwest, wanted to be a family physician since he was in high school. But it was during a mission trip to Jamaica while in medical school that he realized how important it was to him to connect with people.
He completed his residency at LG Health, and then 10 years ago he opened a practice within the health system called Lincoln Family Medicine in Ephrata Borough, which still operates today.
Hager, however, has left that practice to start Novara, because he wants to experiment with new ways to provide health care.
“I think we’ve done a great job trying to manage population-based health care,” he said of the health care system overall. “But I don’t think we’ve done a great job at how to enhance customized care.”
Of course, with any new business endeavor, there is risk involved. For Hager, the risk is that people won’t want to pay out-of-pocket for the services he’s offering.
With 11 patients already signed up at Novara since it opened last Wednesday, Hager thinks Lancaster County has enough demand to support concierge medicine.
“I want to prove that you can still have great primary care,” Hager said.