Concierge members receive prompt medical service
Like modern fashion and popular music, trends tend to come and go. Concierge medicine is the latest trend in health care, especially among primary care physicians.
Concierge medicine can be defined as a membership-based health care plan that combines personalized care with convenience and direct accessibility to a physician. Concierge medicine may also be referred to as boutique medicine, direct primary care or as a platinum practice.
Dr. Sheree Lipkis of Glenview offers concierge medicine and answers a few questions about this emerging health care option.
Q: What is an important difference between traditional medical care and concierge medicine?
A: Traditional medical care has changed significantly over the last few years. Because more medical practices have hired physician assistants and nurse practitioners, many patients are seeing these health care providers rather than their own physician in the office.
Most physicians have full schedules and patients who call for an appointment may be delegated to one of the physician assistants or to a partner in the practice, instead of the doctor they regard as their own physician.
Basically, a concierge practice provides a nicer, faster and more efficient type of medical care for participating patients. In my opinion, concierge medicine allows the physician to practice medicine the way it should be practiced.
Q: I am in my 70s with respiratory issues and am worried about COVID-19. How has COVID-19 impacted your concierge medicine practice?
A: Many physicians retired during the COVID pandemic; in fact, in our area, we currently have a shortage of doctors. Some doctors went to work as employees for hospital systems that are typically short-staffed, as most businesses are these days.
During the first two years of COVID-19, I received five to 10 phone calls or emails a day, both day and night, from patients concerned about COVID, be it a question or a need for advice or treatment.
In traditional practices, physicians usually have someone else covering for them. That clinician may or may not be comfortable advising a patient he or she doesn't know and often refers the patient to an urgent care clinic or the emergency room. In my smaller concierge practice, they can quickly connect with me and have my answer within an hour or two.
Q: How much does a concierge medicine membership cost? How does billing for appointments work?
A: The cost will vary, but it can range from $1,800 to $2,500 per year. When a concierge patient comes in for a physical exam or office visit, that is additionally billed to patients' insurance company including Medicare.
My personal policy is not to bill for phone calls or emails with concierge patients but some other concierge doctors do.
Q: Between my work and family responsibilities, I have a very busy schedule. Will belonging to a concierge medicine practice save me time?
A: I usually offer the patient an appointment on the same day or within the same week. I had some patients leave my practice when I transitioned to the concierge model only to return once they attempted to navigate the standard medical system obtaining physician appointments and scheduling tests. That experience is often very time-consuming as well as frustrating.
Q: Can belonging to a concierge medicine practice help me with scheduling important tests?
A: Yes. Recently, my 66-year-old patient called with left-sided chest pain he attributed to strenuous exercising. I told him I'd like him to come in that day for an exam. The blood tests I did were available the next morning. His D-Dimer was elevated which indicated a likely blood clot. I called and told him I wanted him to have a CT scan of his chest right away or go to the ER. He opted for the CT. But 10 minutes later he called me back saying the hospital scheduling department wasn't even open. I called and arranged an urgent CT for him to be scheduled within one hour. He was amazed.
Q: As a senior, I see several different medical specialists, and it can take weeks to secure an appointment. What's the benefit to a concierge medicine practice when needing to see a specialist?
A: A senior patient had blood in her urine and the evaluation indicated a kidney tumor. She appropriately consulted a urologist at our hospital who met with her and advised she needed surgery. A short time after the appointment, she couldn't reach him again and he didn't return her phone calls until three weeks later.
By then, I had reached out to one of the best urologists for kidney tumors in Chicago, who is not at our hospital, who saw her within the week, recommended a different type of surgery and completed her operation the following week. By the time the first urologist called her back to schedule surgery, she was already recovering from the procedure which fortunately went very well.
Our medical system has changed over the last few years. It can be incredibly challenging to reach one's physician these days and phone calls are not always returned in a timely manner. This is not true of all physicians but unfortunately, it is true of many.
Concierge medicine has become a solution to navigating our complex medical system for those who are fortunate to afford to have it.
• Dr. Sheree Lipkis is a board-certified internal medicine specialist with 42 years of medical experience. She is a graduate of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.