Cut-rate concierge medicine? One Medical resorts to discounting

Good stuff, cheap
Good stuff, cheap

I have mixed views about concierge medicine. On the one hand I like the idea of higher service levels for patients and the ability for doctors to practice medicine the way they think is right without feeling like hamsters on a wheel. But overall I’m pretty skeptical.

  • I’m worried that concierge medicine may draw in physicians who are more concerned than average about their own lifestyles. My non-concierge doc works 80 hours per week and answers my electronic messages right away for no extra charge
  • It’s far from clear that the best primary care docs are concierge docs
  • Many concierge offices are just like regular primary care offices in that they make use of physician extenders: nurse practitioners and physician assistants. I have nothing against these professionals but it’s not what I’m looking for in a premium offering
  • The practices may make primary care more convenient and comfortable but I’m skeptical that they achieve anything special for patients who are really sick and end up in the hospital or under the care of a specialist

It is interesting to see just how inexpensive concierge care has become. One Medical Group in Boston charges only $199 per year for its concierge services. To put that in perspective it’s less than one percent of what my firm pays in premium for family coverage. And yet even at that rate the company seems to be having trouble attracting customers.

I had to chuckle when I received a brochure in the mail yesterday offering a $50 discount –actually a Whole Foods eGift Card– for new customers. Apparently even $199 is too expensive to draw patients in.

Maybe another way to look at it is that regular primary care in Boston is pretty darn good. You can get a same-day appointment if you need it, the doctors will spend the time with you when it’s called for and will go out of their way to help you get in to the proper specialist when required. Many will communicate by electronic message and return phone calls.

I’d actually be happy to pay an extra $199 or even more for a real improvement. And if my current doctor switched to a concierge practice model I’d go with her and pay more. But the concierge model as a whole has a lot to prove before it really catches on.
photo credit: Daquella manera via photopin cc

By David E. Williams of the Health Business Group.

January 30, 2014

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