Concierge Medical Service a Growing Trend
Paying for physician face-time has detractors.
Trip to the doctor's office: $20.
Extra time to bend your doctor's ear: $1,500 a year and up.
Primary care physicians are increasingly offering exclusivity to those willing to pay for it.
These practices, known as concierge, boutique or retainer practices, typically charge annual fees that range from $1,500 to $10,000 or more. The fee allows the businesses to prosper with a far smaller roll of patients than has become the norm under the traditional system.
Patients like the extra attention and lack of crowded waiting rooms. Doctors say they need alternatives to a payment system that forces them to cram their schedule with appointments.
But the growth comes with concerns about doctor access, particularly since a bill moving through Congress could cover millions of uninsured people and flood doctor offices with new primary care patients.
Heidi Berman pays $1,500 annually to see Dr. Stephen Glasser in Baltimore. The 38-year-old attorney said visits to her previous doctor lasted five or maybe 10 minutes.
"If you had questions, they were sort of an afterthought because the experience was so rushed," said Berman, who switched to Glasser a year ago.
Now, if she forgets to ask a question during normal office hours, she calls her doctor in the evening and he immediately calls back.
"It's personalized attention that I think ... every person is really entitled to," she said. "It's unfortunate that you have to pay for that, but for me, the $1,500 a year for that extra attention is worth every penny and then some."
The fee typically gives patients longer, more in-depth appointments with doctors as well as extras normally not covered by insurance. That can include an annual physical that delves into nutritional counseling and depression screening and provides a wider range of tests and blood work than patients usually receive. They also get after-hours access to the doctor.
Most patients still need insurance in addition to this fee, and they still pay co-pays and other coverage-related costs.
Glasser used to care for about 3,500 patients, seeing between 25 and 30 a day. He pared the total down to between 600 and 700 when he converted to a concierge practice six years ago.
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