WARSHAW, MD: ‘Three Biggest Challenges to Starting a Concierge Practice.’
SUMMER 2015 – As the concierge model continues to grow in popularity, more and more physicians (and their patients) are considering a departure from the traditional primary care practice. According to a 2012 Merritt Hawkins study for the The Physicians Foundation, 9.6% of primary practices were considering converting to a concierge practice model.
While the concierge practice does benefit both the physician and patient in severals ways, it’s not for everyone. There are several significant challenges to starting a concierge practice and many lessons to be learned along the way. In this post, we’ll explore the three biggest factors that a physician must overcome to launch and sustain a successful practice.
#1: Your starting lineup: who’s coming with you?
How many active patients do you currently have? How many do you expect will follow you as you transform your practice model? Studies have shown, and it has proven especially true in my practice, that typically 5-10% of patients will continue with your practice after you adopt concierge medicine. In fact, the patients that continue under your care might surprise you. While there is a perception that only the wealthiest patients will join a concierge practice, I’ve found that this is not necessarily true. While additional resources certainly do help to make seeing a concierge physician possible, it does not mean that patient will be willing to allocate those funds in that way. On the other side of the coin, it is not uncommon for patients with a fixed income to continue to invest in a concierge service because they understand the value to managing their individual health.
The higher the number of current patients, the better positioned you will be when you start your practice. For physicians that do not care for a large number of patients, starting a concierge practice can be extremely difficult. However, there is great potential in the corporate world, where companies are moving towards self-funded health plans and looking for cost savings. Carving out the Primary Care portion and combining with a Concierge Doctor to care for the employees will benefit all sides. Topic to be discussed on a future blog!
#2: Your personality: how well do you connect?
The better relationship a doctor has to his/her patients, the more likely they will follow that doctor to a new concierge practice. How is a good relationship defined?
According to a Mayo Clinic study, patients listed the following traits to describe the “ideal doctor”,
Confident: “The doctor’s confidence gives me confidence.”
Empathetic: “The doctor tries to understand what I am feeling and experiencing, physically and emotionally, and communicates that understanding to me.”
Humane: “The doctor is caring, compassionate, and kind.”
Personal: “The doctor is interested in me more than just as a patient, interacts with me, and remembers me as an individual.”
Forthright: “The doctor tells me what I need to know in plain language and in a forthright manner.”
Respectful: “The doctor takes my input seriously and works with me.”
Thorough: “The doctor is conscientious and persistent.”
All of these things combined, create a connection that leads to a relationship based on trust and compassion. When a patient feels a strong relationship with his or her physician, they are more likely to continue with that physician even if the structure of the practice changes, because they have already established value in the relationship.
While affluence does not necessarily dictate a patient’s likelihood of paying for concierge services, having a practice located in an affluent area does position your practice for more success. In fact, the more affluent the area, the more likely you are to succeed in your concierge practice.
The concierge model by definition demands that patients have some degree of financial flexibility in order to afford the membership fee. While the amount of these fees does vary significantly by practice and location, there is still a need for patients to be able to pay out of pocket for health services. According to an article published in The Profitable Practice, “The annual fee runs anywhere from $50 a month to $25,000 a year, with $135 to $150 per month being the national average”, says Tom Blue, executive director of AAPP. So, you can see that establishing a practice in a low income area would severely limit the number of patients who are able to pay membership fees.
Despite the challenges associated with starting a concierge practice, there is much promise. Don’t let fear and lack of inertia stand in your way of reaching greater joys for your career. If you combine these three factors together, your success rate should be extremely high.
Have you started a concierge practice? What did you find to be your most significant challenges? Share your experience in the comments section below.