Remember when doctors made house calls? Probably not. The image of the traveling small-town doctor and his iconic black bag may be embedded in our collective consciousness, but for most of us the image is derived from popular culture rather than from personal experience. But today, with the arrival of a new breed of "concierge doctor," that's beginning to change.
"Concierge Medicine" is a term applied to a special kind of primary care medical practice offering personalized, in-depth, convenient and high-quality healthcare services - just like Hank Lawson does. Business models vary, but concierge doctors - or direct care physicians, as many prefer to be called - typically provide a level of care beyond that of a standard general practitioner, including such perks as easy scheduling of appointments, no waiting times, longer and more thorough examinations, coordination of all medical care and even, in some cases, house calls. Doctor-delivery services are another increasingly popular (and costly) option for patients seeking convenience. In this case, instead of the patient traveling to the doctor, the doctor comes to the patient - and he or she might even carry that iconic black bag.
Of course, all this comes at a price. Hank may not charge exorbitant fees, but most fee-for-service boutique doctors often require a contract and charge an annual retainer fee ranging from $1,500 to upwards of $20,000 per family, and doctor delivery services aren't cheap either. Yet despite that, it seems that a growing number of people are considering those medical bills money well spent. Guess they agree with the old adage "health is wealth."
The main concept behind the concierge doctor isn't new - in fact it's about as old as the concept of the doctor itself. Early doctors, especially those in small towns, were often intimately acquainted with their patients, and generally provided individualized in-home care. In recent years, however, in part because of increased costs and a complicated insurance system, the medical industry has moved away from this sort of personalized care. Today, it's not unusual for a primary care internist to have a patient list of upwards of 3,000, and to see more than 30 patients in a single day. These doctors are simply not able to provide the level of attention their forerunners did.
Concierge medicine provides an alternative to this model. It has been steadily gaining in popularity since its debut in the mid-1990s, with an estimated 5,000 concierge doctors practicing in the U.S. today, according to the Society for Innovative Medical Practice Design, a professional society of concierge physicians. Concierge doctors practice in communities from Seattle, where concierge medicine is said to have originated in 1996, to Boca Raton, where the largest concierge medicine conglomerate in the nation is based, but for the most part concierge practices are concentrated on the coasts and in densely populated and urban regions.
Not everyone is a fan of concierge medicine; insurance companies, government agencies and members of the medical profession have all voiced concern over its practical and ethical implications. But with the number of concierge doctors in the country growing dramatically each year, it looks like this new health care model might be here to stay. Which is good news for Hank - or is it?