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Melissa Gifford

By: Melissa Gifford on July 8th, 2021

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4 Alternatives to Traditional Primary Care for Patients

Concierge Medicine | Membership

You’re fed up with traditional primary care. You can’t stand waiting – days or weeks for an appointment and who knows how long in a lobby or exam room.

You’re done seeing a doctor who doesn’t have the time to get to truly know you. You’re done getting just 10 minutes with your traditional primary care doctor, if you’re lucky, and leaving the office with more questions than you entered.

In short, you want a better primary care experience. You’re ready to start searching for the kind of care you deserve. Here are four options.

1. Concierge Medicine

Concierge medicine was started in 1996 by a pair of Seattle-based doctors. In its early years, it was primarily for the rich. But as it’s grown over the last 20+ years, the cost of concierge medicine has become much more affordable.

It’s membership medicine. You are responsible for an annual fee to be a patient. This, in turn, allows your concierge doctor to dramatically shrink their panel size – often from 3,000-4,000 total patients to 500-600. It also allows them to reduce their reliance on medical revenue through insurance reimbursements to keep the business running.

By doing so, you get a better primary care experience – same-day or next-day sick-care appointments that last at least 30 minutes, little to no waiting in lobbies or exam rooms, 24/7/365 access to care, coordination of care with all your specialists, and more.

Concierge medicine removes all the hassles from the traditional primary care experience. At PartnerMD, we say it’s primary care so personal, it feels like you have a doctor in the family. And it’s true.

Concierge medicine allows you to develop a partnership with a doctor who has the time to get to know you and your goals and provide you with personalized care to help you achieve your goals.

young adult male with concierge doctor

2. Direct Pay Primary Care

Direct pay primary care is often confused with concierge medicine. They’re similar, but not quite the same. The lines can definitely become blurred. The primary difference is how the two deal with insurance.

  • Most concierge medicine practices accept most major insurance carriers, and your health insurance covers the same services as it does with traditional primary care.
  • Direct pay primary care practices don’t accept any health insurance. You pay out-of-pocket for any medical services provided. You would still want to have some form of health insurance for emergency care and catastrophic coverage, but you wouldn’t be using it at your routine doctor’s office visits.

Dealing with insurance causes a lot of headaches in healthcare. By allowing doctors to forgo dealing with health insurance, they can often save overhead costs on time spent dealing with insurance companies and/or on hiring specific employees to deal with it. They, in turn, can pass some of those savings on to you.

Where the lines between direct pay primary care and concierge medicine blur are with membership fees.

Some direct pay primary care practices also charge a membership fee, just like concierge medicine. This allows them to not have to deal with insurance and also maintain smaller patient panels.

However, others do not charge a membership fee. This likely means they are maintaining a larger panel but are eliminating the overhead costs required for dealing with insurance.

You may run into some situations with practices touting themselves as concierge medicine, but really, they are direct pay. It’s important to understand the difference so that you can make the right decision for your care and your insurance plan.

3. Urgent Care

You’re probably most familiar with this urgent care concept. It’s the Patient Firsts, the BetterMeds, and other retail clinics. Chances are there’s at least one, if not several, in your community.

You can use urgent care for your primary care – many people do. Urgent care clinics handle about 89 million patient visits each year in the United States, including 29% of all primary care visits. Urgent care clinics are typically open longer than a standard primary care practice, which could make them a little more convenient for routine medical issues.

However, it can be difficult to establish a long-term relationship with a doctor at an urgent care clinic – one of the reasons physicians choose to work at an urgent care is so when they leave the office, they are truly off the clock.

And depending on your urgent care clinic and their relationship with your insurance company, it could be more expensive than a typical traditional primary care clinic. In addition, most urgent care clinics do not take appointments. It’s a walk-in-and-receive-care kind of thing, but because they are open to everyone, you might be waiting in the lobby quite a bit.

young child and parent with online-only doctor

4. Online-only Primary Care

This model has grown in popularity as technology has become more advanced over the years. You can now video call pretty much anyone on your phone, so it can be extremely convenient to video call your doctor without having to go to the office. A few companies that provide online-only primary care are SteadyMD and Doctor on Demand.

While extremely convenient ̶ you can literally talk to a doctor via video if you’re lying in bed with the flu, on a business trip, or on vacation — it can be tough to establish a long-term relationship solely through video chats. And for some issues, it’s just plain difficult to get the best care possible via video. Some things are just better done in person.

Alternative Primary Care: Learn More About Concierge Medicine

As you can see, you have a handful of options available as alternatives to the traditional primary care model. And it’s important to know: the difference between any of these probably isn’t going to be the skill of the doctor. It’s not like there is special training to be a concierge doctor vs. a direct primary care doctor vs. a traditional primary care doctor.

Primary care doctors, regardless of the type of practice, are typically family or internal medicine physicians and can be either medical doctors or doctors of osteopathy.

Within any kind of primary care model, you’ll find capable doctors who strive to provide the best possible care to their patients. Now, it’s up to you to find out which model works the best for you.

Interested in learning more about concierge medicine? Download our free Understanding Concierge Medicine e-book.

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