Membership programs and the National Health System: More choices, more satisfaction

November 28, 2018

Why would someone who has access to free, quality healthcare pay for healthcare?

Why would someone who has access to free, quality healthcare pay for healthcare?  With the recent launch of our company in the U.K., this is a question that we face daily.

The answer has already been asked and answered. Why do people who get coverage through Medicare pay for concierge medicine programs?  Medicare provides coverage to millions of Americans. More than 90 percent of all physicians in the U.S. accept Medicare.  Why would anyone want more?

In the U.S., the pressure on primary care patients to see more and more patients has resulted in a perceived lack of service and continuity of care, especially amongst seniors. Many of these seniors have one or more chronic conditions and require more service, not less. They want the peace of mind of knowing they have a physician they trust available to them when needed-and they are willing to pay for that availability. These seniors typically use their Medicare to cover medical appointments and use their concierge membership to pay for non-covered support services, like greater coordination of care with specialists, after-hours communication, and lifestyle support and coaching.

General practitioners in the U.K. and their patients feel the same pressure as U.S. doctors-if not more. While U.S. physicians typically see four patients per hour, U.K. physicians see an average of six. U.K. patients have access to quality care, but not always from the provider they want, nor when they want it.  

To their credit, the NHS has begun to answer the demand from patients who are calling for more convenient access to general practitioners (GPs) with new private partnerships. Several of these initiatives are app-based and allow a patient to go on their mobile phone and request an appointment with a conveniently located GP with availability. The patient receives coverage through the NHS, but they aren’t assigned to a specific NHS GP, as is typical. It’s very much like online urgent care scheduling service in the U.S.

But while those programs answer the demand for convenience, it’s not just convenience that patients are searching for. Many patients in the U.K. need more time with their GP to discuss multiple concerns at one time, in an unhurried setting. They want to know that when they schedule their follow up appointment, it will be with the same GP that diagnosed them, so they won’t have to waste precious minutes of their visit reviewing their health history. They are looking for more preventive wellness, with support to meet health goals like weight loss and smoking cessation.  

The truth is, U.S. and U.K. doctors all want to offer the trinity: high-quality care delivered with convenience and compassion, but we know that the pressure on the healthcare marketplaces make that impossible. By offering NHS patients more choices in how to receive care, the NHS can improve satisfaction. For many younger, healthy patients, app-based scheduling services provide all the support and convenience they require. But for more complex care that often requires treatment regimens and coordination, patients can now elect to use private funds to join a membership program in the U.K. and solidify a long-term relationship with a GP they trust.  

Wayne Lipton is managing partner for Concierge Choice Physicians, LLC, and one of the most experienced and successful executives in concierge medicine. Lipton graduated from Harvard College in 1973 with a degree in Biochemistry. He attended the University of Chicago Business School and the Boston Architectural Center. He was formerly a chief operating officer for PhyMatrix, a public healthcare company; chief operating officer for Physicians Choice, a Connecticut IPA and practice management company; and president and principal of Richmond Way Stores, a local chain of drug stores that he operated for 20 years.