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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

When it catches on they won't call it concierge medicine

The idea that patients are better off paying their doctor directly and using their insurance only for unaffordable catastrophes is gaining some traction.

With implementation of the Affordable Care Act looming in 2014 many patients are looking at their doctor's already crowded waiting room and wondering how their care will be impacted when their doctor is responsible for even more patients. And doctors who even now are swamped and frustrated with insurance bureaucracy are wondering how much worse things will get when they have less time for more patients.

Yesterday Bloomberg Businessweek published an article which asks "Is Concierge Medicine the Future of Health Care?" The headline lifted my spirits because of its happy presumption that health care has a future.

The article interviews several concierge doctors. It makes the important point that practices in which patients pay doctors directly are now thriving at many different prices. From practices charging tens of thousands of dollars a year targeted to the very affluent to practices charging $50 per month for blue collar workers, doctors have found that they can take better care of patients by caring for fewer of them and by concentrating on practicing medicine the way they were trained, not by focusing on what's covered by a policy.

The article brings up some very common criticisms of concierge medicine that deserve to be answered.

One objection is that concierge medicine leads to a two tiered system in which the affluent get attentive care and everyone else doesn't. That's nonsense. The whole point of the article is that direct-pay care is working at many different prices and that some of the practices are targeted to middle class patients.

There are already many more than two tiers of health care: the county system and Medicaid for indigent patients, private HMO insurance, staff model HMOs, PPOs, direct-pay practices, etc. How many tiers are there in other marketplaces, like food, housing, or clothing? A practically uncountable number.

One characteristic of robust marketplaces is that they offer goods at widely varying prices. That means that those who need to save can still afford some access to the marketplace but those who can afford more can get better comfort, or better quality, or more reliability. I can get across town for the price of a bus ticket or the price of a BMW. (I ride my bike.) How many tiers is that?

Another objection is that by shrinking their practices to only those who can afford them, doctors who switch to the concierge model are exacerbating the coming primary care physician shortage. Of course the opposite is true. The physician shortage in primary care is fueled by the fact that people aren't choosing to go into primary care. Nothing will attract more students into primary care than examples of happy doctors who are making a living practicing in a way that is both ethical and enjoyable.

Concierge doctors are not the cause of the shortage; we're the fix. What would the critics prefer? That we stay in the insurance model and tell medical students how miserable a career in primary care is? That we drop out of medicine all together?

I think the main barrier to even faster growth of concierge medicine is the name. Another problem is that the insurance model is so entrenched in our understanding that we now think of getting routine care through insurance as the "regular" way it works. We don't have a name for it anymore.

If someone says "I saw my doctor" we just assume that someone else paid for it. If she says "I saw my concierge doctor" we understand that she paid herself. But it should be the other way around. We don't have a word for an accountant or a plumber or a lawyer who gets paid directly by his clients. They're not concierge accountants or concierge plumbers or concierge lawyers. We need to get to the point that paying a doctor directly doesn't deserve an adjective before the noun "medicine." Paying your doctor is just medicine. Having someone else pay for you is insurance medicine.

The Buisnessweek article quotes Josh Umbehr, a concierge doctor in Wichita, Kan.

"Health insurance should work more like car insurance," says Umbehr. "We have car insurance for all the big stuff, but we pay for gas, tires and oil changes ourselves."

He's right. I wish I'd thought of that.

Learn more:
Is Concierge Medicine the Future of Health Care? (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Dealing With Doctors Who Take Only Cash (New York Times)
Dollars to doughnuts diagnosis (My 2008 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that explains why I got out of the insurance model)

Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000. Holding privileges at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, he is also an assistant clinical professor at UCLA's Department of Medicine. This post originally appeared at his blog.

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Blog log

Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:

Albert Fuchs, MD
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.

And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.

Auscultation
Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Zackary Berger
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.

Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Richmond, Va., with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).

db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.

DrDialogue
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.

Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.

Everything Health
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.

FutureDocs
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.

Glass Hospital
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.

Gut Check
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.

I'm dok
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.

Informatics Professor
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.

David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.

Just Oncology
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.

KevinMD
Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.

MD Whistleblower
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.

Medical Lessons
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.

Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.

More Musings
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).

Prescriptions
David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.

Reflections of a Grady Doctor
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.

The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.

Technology in (Medical) Education
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.

Peter A. Lipson, MD
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.

Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.

World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.

Other blogs of note:

American Journal of Medicine
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.

Clinical Correlations
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.

Interact MD
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.

PLoS Blog
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.

White Coat Rants
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.

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