Considering Concierge Medicine? Avoid the Top 5 Mistakes Patients Make
Are you close to choosing a concierge medicine practice? If so, you want that decision to go perfectly. And so do we.
We’re big proponents of double-checking a practice’s fit and your expectations before you squiggle your signature on the dotted line.
As a leading concierge medicine practice since 2003, we’ve seen just about everything. Along the way, we’ve noticed a handful of “mistakes” from patients who ultimately become dissatisfied with concierge medicine.
By discussing them here, we hope you’re aware of them as you get started, so you can enjoy the best experience possible, no matter which concierge practice you choose.
1. Sign a contract for concierge medicine you didn’t read.
It’s not exactly that hot new novel you’ve heard about, but your contract is essential reading. Understand what it promises, from access to your doctor to the perks included in your membership, so you know what to expect once you’ve joined the practice and how to get the most value out of your investment.
A few tips when it comes to your contract.
- Pay attention to the section about termination (or ending the contract). Getting into a contract doesn’t have to be an overwhelming commitment — so long as you have the freedom to leave if and when you need.
Even if you’re sure you’re going to love the practice, relocation or a change in your financial situation might prompt you to bring the relationship to a close, so it’s good to know in advance.
- Make sure you know the length of the contract. Is it a full year, month-to-month, or something else? If you’ve prepaid for a full year or for a quarter, the practice might give back a prorated amount for your unused time, but you need to check.
Also, learn how much notice the medical practice will need from you. For instance, PartnerMD asks for 30 days' written notice, with no fees or other catches.
- Confirm whether the practice works with your health insurance. You also need to know how the practice handles unexpected changes in coverage. Some practices offer a direct-pay option if you have a coverage lapse.
- Speak up if unsure. If you have any questions about what’s in the contract for your concierge medical practice of choice, make sure to ask them.
2. Confuse better access to care for better access to a physician.
Access is one of the big promises of concierge care. Specifically, 24/7 access. One of the big pros of concierge medicine is that you can count on getting care when you need it, whether it’s Tuesday during business hours, Friday night out at dinner, or 3 a.m. in the middle of the night.
But for each practice, what after-hours care means may mean something a little different. It’s important to know what access means for the practice you’re choosing to be sure that the practice can deliver what you want.
- Will you have direct access to a physician?
- Will it be your doctor or at least another doctor within the practice? If so, they will likely have quick access to your medical records, which can be a huge plus for weekends and late-night calls.
- Or will you reach an outside vendor paging system, a nurse triage line, or another doctor from another practice covering for your doctor?
These different models and levels of access can impact your experience as a patient and/or the price of your membership.
Sometimes, we see patients who expect to get their physician every time they call after-hours. There’s no one way to go about it, but you should know how the practice is set up and whether or not that works for you.
3. Insist on a specific concierge doctor.
Concierge doctors see significantly fewer patients. That’s good in the sense that they can provide more attentive care. But it also means they can’t take on as many incoming people. Make sure your expectations aren’t too tied to a specific physician.
If your first choice of doctor is not available to take new patients, learn about other doctors on staff. The practice likely hired each of its doctors in part because of cultural fit in addition to skill — these physicians have shared values. The right concierge doctor for you could come in several different forms.
- Family vs. Internal Medicine: You may be dead set on having an internist, but that may mean missing out on a terrific family doctor who can deliver similar care. Or vice versa.
- Male vs. Female: Understandably, you may prefer a doctor of the same gender, but don’t let it be a deciding factor. Both male and female doctors can provide the high-quality care you want.
- Progressive vs. Old School: Maybe you want a doctor who is adopting and incorporating the latest medical trends into their care. That’s a progressive doctor. They can sometimes be known as holistic doctors. Or perhaps you want the old-school, traditional doc who takes care of patients the way you’ve been taken care of for years.
Talk with a membership representative. Share your criteria for a doctor. Then see how many available physicians have the personality, background, and philosophy you want.
4. Fail to use your HSA or FSA benefits.
Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts don’t cover your membership fees, but they do cover eligible medical expenses. The key is to plan when and where you want to apply your spending account — maximizing your tax break.
We know the cost of concierge medicine can be prohibitive for some, and financial priorities can change in an instant, but you don’t want to leave your concierge care for financial reasons without exhausting all options to make it work.
Look at how often you plan to see your doctor and figure any copay costs into your HSA/FSA strategy. Keep in mind that you may spend less on copays than you first anticipate, because concierge doctors sometimes help by phone or email, saving you a trip to the office.
Or, you might end up paying a little more than you expect, as going to the doctor becomes hassle-free, and you might be more likely to see your doctor more frequently.
Remember that some membership perks replace some current expenses and could be eligible for reimbursement. Depending on what your concierge practice offers, you may be able to replace other health expenses.
What’s the big point here? You may have to tinker with your HSA or FSA strategy as you develop habits for using your membership and its perks. But at least go into your membership having some strategy, so you don’t leave tax breaks unused.
5. Let your membership go unused.
Membership in a concierge medical practice is not unlike a gym membership. Both are an investment in your future self. And both will do you no good at all if you don’t use the membership.
If you go through the process of learning about concierge medicine and committing to a practice, don't let your membership sit unused.
Get yourself in the right frame of mind to use the program’s perks — to participate in classes, set goals for your health, and communicate with your doctor.
If something’s off, don’t be afraid to call your doctor. If you’re setting a new goal to exercise more or eat better, and the practice you choose offers wellness programs, get them involved. Don’t put off that annual physical because you feel fine at the time.
You’re making the investment, so it’s time to use it.
Explore concierge medicine at PartnerMD.
At PartnerMD, we want you to make the right decision for yourself, your health, and your family. And once you’re a member, we want to treat you like family, so you avoid these mistakes and make progress on your path to lifelong health.