If time is precious to you, and making time for doctor visits is problematic, you may be considering concierge medicine—sometimes called direct primary care—a service for which patients pay an upfront fee, typically an annual or monthly retainer, in order to have their physician at their beck and call.
Some 6,500 physicians in the U.S. currently offer the service, up from fewer than 150 a decade or so ago, according to the American Academy of Private Physicians. Because these physicians have fewer patients, they can offer same-day appointments, including house calls, plus more extensive office visits and as much email and phone communication as you wish.
Is concierge medicine for you?
From finance and consumer advisors, here are five things to know that may help you decide for yourself:
- While retainer fees for concierge medical service vary, based primarily on where you live, average costs range between $1,200 and $1,800 per year for quick and personalized access to your physician.
- Doctor-patient relationship is a plus. Because your doctor has fewer patients, and you communicate more often, there’s a good chance your doc will know you very well—and your annual physical may include preventive procedures that insurance plans are not required to cover. As a result, diagnoses—and treatment—may be quicker than is usually the case.
- Patients who sign up report satisfaction as well as fewer visits to emergency rooms and specialists, some studies say. But because the patient must still initiate calls and/or doctor visits, there’s not enough research yet to prove that they receive better care overall, or that they stay healthier or recover faster from injury or disease.
- Find the right doc. Check the American Academy of Private Physicians to locate concierge doctors in your area, or find one affiliated with such networks as MDVIP.com. One advantage of MDVIP: If you become ill while traveling, you may visit the nearest MDVIP doctor.
- Check your insurance, because your retainer won’t pay for everything. You may have to pay out of pocket or buy additional insurance to cover drugs, lab tests, diagnostic screenings or hospitalization costs. If you don’t have a health savings account or flexible spending account, and you’re under 65, you may be able to purchase a high-deductible plan from your employer or through a state or federal marketplace. If you are 65 or older, you can enroll in Medicare and Medicare Advantage.