By Matt Jacobson
Every year millions of Americans write checks to their doctors, averaging $1,600, to have the privilege of being their patients. What’s more, most of these patients already have existing health insurance plans (usually, through their employers).
These patients, and the thousands of doctors who are their primary care physicians, comprise the concierge medicine or personalized care movement that offers a variety of patient-centric services, all designed to encourage and support proactive preventive health.
The trend has accelerated in the wake of parallel concerns by patients about the level of health care available under the Affordable Care Act and the ever-growing shortage of doctors in the U.S., estimated by the American Medical Association to be 65,000 by 2016. The lack of doctors, especially primary care physicians, has put more strain on the health care system just as millions of previous uninsured Americans are entering the system per the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).
The key concept behind the concept is, in a word, prevention. The current healthcare delivery system in the U.S. focuses on treating symptoms of existing chronic diseases–ailments like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cancer. When a person becomes ill, physicians administer a litany of tests to zero in on the cause of the ailment and then a treatment is devised.
Concierge medicine turns conventional health care on its head—trusted physicians work with patients to prevent illnesses before their onset.
Keep in mind that only 3 cents of every dollar spent on healthcare in the U.S. is allocated to prevention, yet over 70% of diseases are preventable. Concierge medicine aims to change that.
The other important concept behind the trend is “personalization.” Because concierge doctors have on average 75% fewer patients than their standard health-care counterparts, they have more time to create and monitor personalized wellness plans for each patient. They actually have the opportunity to get to know the patient as a whole person, rather than merely as a collection of symptoms on a chart.
All good and fine, but what exactly does the patient receive for their $1,600 annual retainer? Among the services are 24/7 email and telephonic physician availability. That’s right, as a concierge patient, you can actually call your doctor in the middle of the night and expect him to answer the phone or get back to you immediately.
Also, concierge patients are treated to no-wait doctor appointments. Compare that to the average wait time of 30 minutes in a standard practice. And, they receive extended doctor visits that last as long as needed. Again, compare that to the average doctor-patient face time with conventional medicine of only 8 minutes.
Patients also receive executive-style annual physical exams and the latest in advanced diagnostic equipment (like the Panasonic CardioHealth Station that instantly can detect clogged arteries with, literally, the wave of a wand).
However, all these services are designed to reinforce one thing: the patient’s personalized wellness plan, created in conjunction with his or her doctor. In short, the goal is to prevent chronic disease from ever happening. And it works.
A recent study indicated that patients who are under the care of concierge physicians experience 65% fewer hospitalizations than do like-age patients in the standard health system. One doctor who can testify to the effectiveness of personalized care is Floyd Russak, M.D., an internist based in Denver. After converting his practice to Signature MD’s concierge model, he saw the number of heart attacks among his patients drop from 35 to 8 after only one year.
So, how much is that worth? I do not think we can put a price tag on good health, but our programs cost about $4.50 per day, $135 per month or $1,600 per year.
From a purely economic standpoint, investing $1,600 per year in your health is a good investment. Personalized care can, for example, help you prevent severe coronary disease, which has a lifetime management cost of one million dollars.
Concierge medicine patients make a conscious decision to invest in themselves to live better, longer lives. In reality, you would be hard pressed to put a price on that.
Matt Jacobson is the CEO and founder of SignatureMD, a leading provider of concierge medicine in the U.S.