Today, people are accustomed to sending out quick questions via text or email, or logging onto a website to get information instantly. They want the same convenience with their medical care. But, patients are purchasing good health from their doctor—unfortunately, not something one can buy from Amazon Prime. Doctors are not remote portals waiting for patients to text their symptoms and concerns, capable of going back and forth until there is resolution. It can be hours before a doctor has time to check emails or look at their cell phone, and there is not enough time in the day to care for a full patient panel via email.
It may not be the best choice for proper medical care anyway. Telemedicine sounds nice, but for most health issues, doctors still need to see patients face-to-face. To hear them, examine them, and administer the proper tests. Doctors need time to explain treatment regimens or to explain why no treatment is necessary. Physicians do more than just check off a list of symptoms a patient describes like the computer algorithm on WedMD. They take into account the whole person and the way the patient is communicating. Is the patient tired-looking or totally exhausted? Do they sound weak or in pain? What someone describes as a little cough might actually be pneumonia—a life or death situation for some patients.
Though having medical service delivered remotely may be appealing, doctors cannot be expected to provide compassionate, comprehensive, and timely communication in this manner. Still, patients want the convenience. What's a busy practice to do?
Many doctors are finding middle ground through membership models like concierge medicine. The models can be offered in full or in part, to just a select group of patients in the practice who choose to join. A membership model allows a doctor to offer an exclusive level of convenience that simply cannot be made available to an entire practice.
Members typically receive the doctor's email address for non-urgent questions or concerns, and a private cell phone number answered by the physician for after-hours health issues. If the doctor has a blended model (a hybrid concierge program), the members get a private members-only phone number at the office to call so they can reach a health professional directly.
This means members have easy ways to reach their doctor—no long waits on hold or an automated phone bank to contend with. Their calls to the office are answered by a live person who quickly addresses their concerns. With more time in their schedule, doctors can answer non-urgent questions that come in via email.
Some physicians worry that concierge patients will hound them via email or text, but the opposite is usually true. Because patients can easily call the office, speak to a live person, and schedule a same-day/next day appointment, they tend to come in, be seen, and have their needs met in-office. There is no reason to email a doctor and go back and forth several times about a cough when they know they can see their doctor face-to-face and receive treatment quickly and comprehensively.
Patient-members take advantage of convenient email communication for their non-urgent health issues, like prescription renewals, the scheduling of routine appointments, or a request for forms. Health-related questions, about medications or possible illness, for example, can be directed to the doctor at the office by calling the concierge phone number, which is answered promptly by a staff member. That staff member can quickly get a message to the doctor if necessary or schedule an appointment. There are no automated attendants or depersonalized patient portals sucking up a patient's time.
Because of the challenges for patients in today's healthcare marketplace, concierge care is becoming increasingly popular. Even large delivery systems are taking notice. More than ever before, patients want easy ways to reach their doctor and they are willing to pay for this enhanced level of service. Doctors should not underestimate the value of convenient, comprehensive communication delivered with a personal touch.