While Washington continues to promise healthcare reform, physicians, hospitals and delivery systems have shouldered on—adapting, innovating and becoming increasingly flexible. Healthcare consumers have also changed. Many people are accustomed to variety in the delivery of their healthcare, and most patients like having options.
Today, patients can choose to wait for a visit with their primary care provider, or be seen more quickly by the practice's nurse practitioner. They can take the traditional route and get a referral for an X-ray from their primary care doctor for a scan at the radiology center, and then see an orthopedist for a broken bone, or they can take matters into their own hands by going straight to the emergency room. Some people opt for the convenience of urgent care, getting a quick evaluation and an X-ray all in one place. Want to make sure that sore throat isn't strep? You can pop into a local pharmacy on your lunch break and have a quick swab done. You can even get your flu shot while you're there, or get your flu shot when you get your annual physical. Your choice!
Hospitals have long understood consumer's desire for choice. They offer patients the option to upgrade to a private or semi-private room, or even a luxury unit that can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per day. Patients pay out-of-pocket for more privacy, enhanced food service and accommodations, or they can remain a patient in the traditional hospital setting. The medical care is generally not different for their patients. The surgeons and anesthesiologists, radiology labs and medicine follow established protocols. It's the enhanced service that patients are paying for. Hospitals deliver excellent care in whatever environment is offered and chosen.
Is there room for more consumer choice in large delivery systems and hospitals?
Having experienced the success of concierge-style hospital stays, concierge-style primary care for large delivery systems is the next frontier. It's already happening, in fact. Hospitals now own one in four medical practices in America. Many of the primary care practices they've bought were staffed by concierge physicians, revealing three important points:
•A concierge program can deliver much higher per-hour revenue than a traditional practice.
•Instituted properly, concierge care can align well with a hospital's vertically integrated business model.
•Physicians increase the value of their practice when they have a concierge program and decide to sell to a large delivery system.
While some hospital systems have begun exploring different concierge models in earnest, others still hesitate, thinking they can't offer concierge care because upgraded service plans won't align with their business model. They don't realize that they already offer forms of private care, and it's working. Concierge primary care is simply another service that healthcare consumers can elect to purchase, just like VIP hospital suites. The trick is to choose the right model and implement it in a manner that is consistent with the highest quality care for ALL patients. It can be done.