Lessons All Practices Can Learn from the Concierge Model

April 24, 2015
Zach Watson

A concierge model may not be the answer for every practice, but it does serve as an example of what’s possible with technology and the right priorities.

Starting a private practice requires a heavy dose of entrepreneurial spirit. Keeping one afloat requires a keen mind for business operations.

Rather than shrugging his shoulders at an overly complex healthcare system, internal medicine physician Tom Lee founded a practice that focused on fixing some of the glaring flaws in healthcare delivery at the practice level.

One Medical, a large concierge practice, epitomizes what’s required to succeed in private practice: ambition, innovation, and efficiency. Even if you’re not pursuing a concierge model for your practice, this practice's success still has several lessons to offer healthcare providers looking to maintain some autonomy through a private practice. It may also offer a window into the future of the physician-patient relationship.

Here are three things private practice providers can take from Lee’s success.

 Build Your Foundation on Technology

Despite seeing an average of 35 percent fewer patients per day than the average practice, One Medical already boasts patient numbers in the thousands as well as a reported growth rate of 50 percent.

Can seeing fewer patients while growing at a meteoric rate be anything other than a paradox?

The answer seems to be yes. This coupling of rapid growth without tortuous physician hours and work flows is best explained by the practice’s effective use of technology to increase the operational efficiency.

It’s no secret that One Medical receives significant backing from venture capital firms - much of which is likely due to Lee’s success with Epocrates, which he cofounded. But instead of exclusively spending those assets on new office buildings and advertising, Lee invested heavily in technology, specifically iOS and Android apps.

As part of the annual $199 membership fee, One Medical patients receive access to the practice’s app from which they can book online appointments, renew prescriptions, and even get a review of their medical information and have subscriptions sent to a pharmacy or tests scheduled.

This same functionality can be found in many patient portals, though these features are less common on mobile devices at the moment.

Instead of worrying about how the patient portal-esque app would fulfill meaningful use requirements, Lee seized the opportunity to automate all the clerical processes he could. As a result, One Medical employs half as many office staffers per provider as the normal practice.

Center the Experience Around the Patient

One Medical’s emphasis on technology streamlines the way the practice functions, and improves the patient experience. Creating a useful mobile application wasn’t done for reimbursement purposes, but rather to create a more intuitive experience for patients.

Many practices lack this focus on the patient experience. Instead of taking the time to make sure the patient is comfortable with a diagnosis, providers must rush the examination in order to move on to the next patient.

This directly contradicts the mindset of the modern consumer, and it only feeds healthcare’s reputation for anachronistic operating models. Consumers now use their experience with a service provider as validation for continuing to choose that provider. Failing to focus on experience is a surefire way to lose patients - perhaps driving them to competitors who do seem to have the time to talk longer in the exam room.

Remember that One Medical physicians see less patients? That’s so they can dedicate more time with each individual.

To be sure, technology powers the customer experience by making the healthcare provider more efficient and enabling him to prioritize the patient. But using the lack of technology as an excuse for the poor engagement is self-defeating.

Patients now expect a holistic experience from providers, beginning with digital access to health information and ending with follow-up after the appointment.

Look Past the Status Quo

Physicians have a reputation for being resistant to change. However, the current reimbursement system mire and the myriad of new regulations aren’t asking physicians to change; these forces are demanding it.

Doing things the same old way simply won’t suffice. A concierge model may not be the answer for every practice, but it does serve as an example of what’s possible with technology and the right priorities. Luckily for independent practices, there’s an expansive market of medical software that supplies the raw materials for building a more effective, patient-centered practice.