• Aayushi Jain

Concierge Medical Care: Personalized (and Pricey) Healthcare

The healthcare industry is rapidly evolving in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As millions of Americans flock to hospitals and physicians for various medical purposes, concierge medical care is growing in popularity. Concierge doctors offer personalized medical services to those who can afford the high price tag. While traditional primary care doctors see an average of 1,600 patients in their practice, concierge doctors have far fewer, generally between 250 and 600. This approach to medicine has several advantages, as MDVIP, a physician network that offers personalized primary-care medicine, claims their hospitalization rates among patients are more than 70 percent lower than in non-concierge offices. Concierge care patients are also generally unwilling to leave their doctors, creating a more consistent patient base for concierge medicine companies. However, prices for services can be two to three times higher than those of other healthcare providers, in addition to steep annual fees. Only the affluent are able to pay for this premium luxury, and it is even less affordable now with the coronavirus crisis.

It is unclear how many private medicine physicians exist nationally, partly because there is no federal registry or official national database of who employs these subscription-based or cash-only healthcare delivery business models. However, industry sources confirm there are between 5,000 and 20,000 concierge doctors in the U.S. These same sources claim the growth in the subscription private medicine services industry is between 3% to 6% each year and has been primarily in internal medicine and family medicine.

But what makes concierge care services better than or different from regular doctors and medical practices? For starters, basic telemedicine is restricted by insurance regulations and complicated healthcare portals. Concierge care, however, is not subject to these same regulations and instead offers personalized care, often in patients’ own homes. Therefore, the freedom of private medicine physicians and the personalized aspect of these services may be key factors in the steep price of concierge care.

Like every other industry, the coronavirus is changing concierge care as well. The sector has grown rapidly during the pandemic as more and more individuals seek direct access to physicians and attempt to avoid busy waiting rooms, where they could potentially contract the virus. Additionally, Medical Economics asserts that concierge services are in a better position to handle the current financial panic than regular healthcare services because they have a steady cash flow. OpenClear has administered 600 in-home coronavirus screenings in Miami and the New York area since March, and these tests can cost as much as $1,000, delivering results in about 12 hours. Would you pay $1,000 to get screened for corona in the safety of your home? Many people would decline this expensive offer, yet it appears those who can afford it are taking advantage. Of course, this begs a different conversation about healthcare inequity and wealth gaps. Author Nelson Schwartz explains how “in the age of the coronavirus pandemic, not all patients are created equal,” as “concierge docs are doing what they can to help their patients, even if that means jumping the line.” This crisis has exposed our healthcare system’s inequities, and as an increasing number of Americans are out of work and the number of cases climbs, concierge medical services can be considered “out of touch” with our current reality.

There are some plans to expand private healthcare access, such as Alignment healthcare’s virtual Medicare Advantage plan. Alignment aims to increase the availability of its digital, concierge-style solutions for primary care and specialty care services as it pushes into new markets in California, Nevada, and North Carolina. The program is designed to offer not only on-demand services but also primary care through a concierge platform to nearly 6 million Medicare Advantage beneficiaries. The challenge is that concierge care requires frequent and personal member engagement, meaning that scaling to a broader consumer base will be tough.

The concierge medical care and services industry doesn’t seem to be slowing its growth anytime soon, despite controversy amid the coronavirus pandemic. Wealth will continue to make a difference in healthcare access, and as individuals are tested for the coronavirus, we can only hope that society passes this test as well.

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