Patient Interest in Concierge Care Grows

May 15, 2014

More patients are turning to concierge medicine to get the healthcare services they want and to maintain their choice of physicians.

In many developed countries, healthcare has been split between a public and private delivery system for decades. This type of structure, while partly existing in this country for many years as well, is now growing rapidly.  Many patients are now supplementing their health care programs with private care through participation in membership-based concierge programs.

The trend we've experienced is not just a spike in membership, but also in general interest regarding this form of care. Patients are looking for the benefits associated with concierge medical care, and they are willing to pay privately to acquire the enhanced services.

Patient interest in concierge programs has increased for various reasons:

1. Physician shortage. Many patients try to sign up with new doctors only to be told the doctor is not taking any new patients. The number of primary-care physicians available is no longer sufficient to cover the demand.

2. Limits on physician time. Doctors are stretched and patients are feeling the squeeze. There are not many physicians left who can take the extra time with a patient or their family members to provide enhanced advocacy, service, coordination of care, and personal support.

3. Employed physicians. The generation of physicians who practiced in private care is nearing retirement. New physicians are more often interested in employment with larger systems, where protocols regarding patient volume and allotted time must be considered. This employment structure doesn't often allow physicians to devote extra time and attention to their patients.

4. Concierge program popularity. As more physicians offer concierge programs, awareness has increased. The programs are well-covered in media reports and more accepted by the public.

5. Economic conditions. While the economy has still not changed significantly for all Americans, it has improved enough for many people to feel comfortable making a financial commitment to their health.

6. Peace of mind. Patients are concerned about all they hear in the media regarding sweeping healthcare reform. They see it play out in their own physician's office. They understand and accept how concierge programs can help them secure their physician relationship and insulate them from perceived new dangers, specifically the reduction in the choice of who takes care of them and the quality of that care.

7. Patient satisfaction is high. Patients feel they receive true value from the dollars spent on their concierge programs. Membership retention rates are high - even among our hybrid-program physicians, where patients can still choose to remain a traditional patient. That kind of customer satisfaction spreads via word of mouth, fueling a viral explosion of similar programs.

8. Concierge program availability. Concierge programs used to exist in mainly just the top 10 metropolitan areas, but now concierge care is spreading to even smaller cities and suburban communities.

9. Political climate. In the current political environment - particularly with a midterm election and the future presidential election on the horizon - the argument against the Affordable Care Act will continue to be on the forefront, with the most effective appeal targeting those who oppose any change that takes away their healthcare choices.

10. Team-based care approach. Regardless of one's position for or against the ACA, there is an evolution in healthcare designed to make delivery more of a team effort, using more lower-level providers and utilizing more technology. In general, there is less physician-based personal care. For people with a more involved health history, this can be troubling, as they prefer greater interaction with their chosen physician.

Not only are patients now signing onto their doctors' concierge programs in increasing numbers, the source of the patients who sign on is changing too. In the past, concierge members were converted from the physician's existing patient pool. That is not always the case today.

Healthcare consumers are aware of the benefits of concierge care and are seeking out concierge physicians who can provide them with the peace of mind and extra time they believe is needed.

I think this interest is going to continue. While physicians are keenly aware of the many challenges the changing healthcare climate has presented, they should also be aware of the opportunities that now exist.