Some Doctors Practice ‘Boutique’ Medicine

Dr. Gary Levinson has practiced internal and sleep medicine in the San Diego area for years, but he practices in an unusual way.

Some of his patients have his cellphone number and the number for a separate phone line into the office. They are also promised same or next-day appointments. And in the office, he’s able to spend more time with them, build relationships and get to know patients and their health issues.

He’s able to do all of that under the “concierge” or “boutique medicine” model.

It’s a model that’s emerged in recent years in which some concierge doctors offer patients the option of paying an annual fee or a retainer, which varies from physician to physician, in exchange for more access and time with their doctors.

Patients typically keep their private insurance, which pays for office visits and services, but the annual fee gives them perks such as being able to reach their doctor after-hours via email or phone, securing appointments within 24 hours and more one-on-one time with their doctor.

In turn, the fee allows doctors to lighten their patient roster, see fewer people each day and spend more time with patients in the office.

Some doctors have switched to the model full time, while physicians such as Levinson offer concierge service to 5 percent of his patients now with the hope of eventually offering the model to 10 to 15 percent.

It’s not only advantageous to his patients, it’s often advantageous to him.

“It’s unrushed,” said Levinson. “Patients get what they want and we get more satisfaction without feeling like a cog in the health care wheel.”

Dr. David Jones, a Virginia-based physician and author of “Achieving Individualized Healthcare Through Concierge Medicine,” said the practice is a throwback to the way many adults remember health care when they were children, a return to simply being able to call a doctor, get an appointment and being remembered by the physician when they walk through the door.

Dr. Harry Albers, division head of the private internal medicine center at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, said concierge medicine started roughly 15 years ago. He said it’s hard to gauge how many doctors offer the model today — some estimates say less than 5,000 nationwide — and the fees they charge vary across the country.

He said physicians in internal medicine, family practice and some in pediatrics are more apt to adopt the model, adding that some of those physicians may charge $500 per year for a single person, while others could charge up to $10,000 per year for an individual.

According to the magazine Concierge Medicine Today, a publication that promotes concierge medicine, more than 60 percent of concierge plans cost less than $135 a month.

Albers said Scripps, which has five doctors offering concierge medicine and is looking to add a sixth physician, charges $3,000 per year for a single person and $5,000 for a couple.

Albers, who adopted the concierge model in his internal medicine practice, said one of the biggest hurdles in medicine is “the volume of care that’s needed,” which can lead to burnout when physicians have thousands of patients on their rosters and sometimes see dozens of people a day


About Concierge Medicine Journal

Concierge Medicine Journal (CMJ) curates breaking concierge medicine news, and editorial opinion on a wide variety of topics relevant to the practice of Concierge Medicine.

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