Coverage On-Call: More patients trading traditional health care for concierge docs
Health care costs consistently rank among the top concerns for American families. But many are trading the traditional care for a more 'direct' option. They're cutting out the middle man... of using insurance for every visit-- and instead only using it for major medical.
The growing trend of concierge doctors is picking up steam in the Ozarks... and it's no longer only for the rich and famous. Plans are quickly being aimed at your average income family.
Gone are the days of E-R visits or visiting Urgent Care. Gone, too, are long waits for your appointment time.
"If Corbin wrecks his bike or his segue, because it has happened! Or if he has a fence post hit him on the face and he breaks his nose-- you literally can call Dr. Luke or send him a text and say Doc... I think maybe Corbin broke his nose," explained patient Beckie Collins. She has been using a concierge doctor for three years, and says she'll never go back to the more traditional way.
Most patients still carry traditional health insurance, but only use it for catastrophic coverage. Independent insurance brokers say they like the idea of concierge doctors, but say carrying catastrophic coverage is of critical importance.
Collins says for her family-- this direct care is much cheaper... with much better access. She can call, text, e-mail or FaceTime her doctor as many times as needed for a flat monthly fee.
The average family pays about $150 per month at Command Family Medicine in Springfield. There are several similar providers now in the Ozarks who operate as concierge docs.
"For us, it's the access and immediate response to any issues or problems or concerns you might have with yourself or your children," Collins said.
You can think of it kind of like car insurance. You don't use your insurance for oil changes or tire rotations, but you still carry car insurance for major wrecks that would send you or your car to the body shop. But doctors say 99-percent of what you need-- routine health care for various ailments is covered in your monthly fee.
"People have had to use their insurance anytime they've needed health care of any sort... so getting them to realize they don't need to use insurance for that and it can be a lot more affordable and a lot better service when you can take that middle man out of the scenario and leave it just between the physician and the patient... that's ideal," said Dr. Luke Van Kirk. He says it's medical practice as it should be, in his opinion.
"I was working for a major hospital here in town and I quickly found out family medicine was not what I thought it was going to be," Van Kirk said. "I didn't get to spend very much time with my patients, people are waiting hours to see me, and when I did see them I'd get to spend 5-10 minutes even though I knew they needed more time."
Dr. Van Kirk says he found a better way.
"Probably 75-percent of things I saw in the ER didn't need to be in the emergency room. I could have handled it in an office setting," he said.
If a patient needs surgery-- he says there's a set-up for that, too.
"Both hospitals in town will offer self-pay discounts so if they need to get a surgery and they don't have any insurance, then we can go that route, and if it's an elective procedure, that doesn't need to be done urgently, there are some resources in Kansas City, some independent surgery centers that do flat prices for surgeries-- cash prices," he explained.
Plus, he says almost all of those procedures are done at a fraction of the cost.
For Beckie's family-- she ran the numbers and is saving some $1,200 dollars per month. She encourages everyone to check into concierge doctors because she thinks it's better care. Though for some, the traditional way of using insurance for everything might be cheaper.
"The day that we decided to pull the trigger... Corbin was not feeling good, he had a fever and he was kind of lethargic and we didn't know what was wrong and I called the doctor's office and they were like well... unless it's an emergency, we can't get him in for three weeks.. and I was like but he's sick-- and they were like you could take him to the emergency room, and I'm like it's not an emergency!" she said. "I called Dr. Luke and told him we're signing up today, but we're also going to come in today, and he was like oh, come on in.. bring Corbin and let's see what's going on. He did the strep test here at office and he said yeah, he's got strep throat. Had we waited three weeks! So we did the test, had the medicine and were out the door within 15 minutes," Collins said.
Several Springfield doctors have left the hospital setting-- for more direct access to patients, and now operate as concierge doctors, or direct primary care physicians.
Ascent Direct Primary Care has an office in Nixa. Dr. Matthew Green is one of a handful of docs who decided to move out of the hospital setting. Dr. Green went out on his own three years ago to spend more time with patients. Many small business owners have also hired him, as a cheaper alternative to traditional policies.
VIP Medical Services offices in Ozark, and also acts as a concierge doctor clinic.
Dr. Van Kirk says he thinks more and more doctors will follow suit.