Hayden Patients Say Concierge Medical Care Service Is A Healthier Alternative

Scott Maben The Spokesman-Review

He doesn’t ride a horse or carry a leather satchel with a stethoscope and forceps.

But patients describe Dr. Rich Samuel as a throwback to a

simpler time in medicine. He gets them in quickly for appointments, offers leisurely visits and even answers their calls at night and on weekends.

“We’re trying to go back to the old-time, country doctor approach,” said Samuel, a board-certified family physician in Hayden.

He also offers a far less complicated payment system. Patients can see Samuel all they need for a fixed monthly fee.

“We’re trying to change the game, so to speak, and you know, the game is well-entrenched,” the soft-spoken doctor said.

Samuel last fall switched his business to this direct care model, also known as a concierge medicine model or retainer-based practice. Patients pay based on their age for unlimited access, with no co-pays or extra costs.

He does not bill insurance and has opted out of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, freeing up more time to spend with patients. Samuel has capped his patient load at 400, a tenth of the number he juggled before October.

“We can’t have 4,000 patients and be able to maintain that slower pace and more intimate type of interaction,” he said.

Samuel gives patients his cellphone number and email address so they can reach him at night or on the weekend if they have an urgent care need. He figures he’s had about 10 after-hours calls in the four months he has operated under the new system.

“People in general are very respectful of my off time, but it’s also reassuring to a lot of people to know if there’s an emergency they can call and run it by me,” he said.

Ladina Merwin has gone to Samuel for 19 years and prefers the new subscription fee plan. She went in for four or five visits in the past month and said she’s glad she didn’t have to pay for each one or deal with insurance.

“It’s very cost-effective,” Merwin said. “It’s a huge relief, and it makes you say maybe I should go to the doctor versus staying home and getting sicker and not taking care of yourself.”

Her husband, who runs a towing company and repair shop, and their two children also see Samuel. The monthly fee for the family is $200.

“Now, if they’re injured, it’s like, ‘You’re going to the doctor.’ It’s not, ‘Let’s see how it plays out in a couple of days.’ ” she said. “It’s a huge comfort level for me, because I don’t stress about my kids’ health at all.”

The subscription approach, sometimes referred to as concierge medicine, originated in the mid-1990s as an alternative to conventional practices that bill through insurance companies, Medicaid and Medicare. The number of U.S. doctors using this model grew fivefold, to more than 750, between 2005 and 2009, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

“This is an experiment, which has been successful in a lot of other markets, but this is still a trial balloon here in northern Idaho, and in Spokane for that matter,” Samuel said.

It’s a rare approach in the Inland Northwest, but a few others are trying it. Spokane Internal Medicine offers an option for patients to pay a monthly fee of $69 for access to primary care, including lab work, chronic disease management and nutrition classes. The practice, with nine doctors and five nurse practitioners on staff, has offered its Direct Care service for three years.

Samuel said he was drawn to this approach to make his fees transparent and affordable and be able to give more attention to patient needs.


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.

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: