Concierge medicine was a foreign concept for many when Theresa Burick opened The Burick Center for Health and Wellness in Hampden Township, Cumberland County.
About a year ago, Burick added a second physician to help with a two-year waiting list to get into the practice.
An increasingly complex medical system, fragmented care and a lack of communication among providers seem to be factors pushing people to this new form of primary care.
“What we find is that patients are getting frustrated,” said Julianne Rich, M.D., physician at The Burick Center.
There are different models of concierge medicine, but most typically charge a monthly or annual membership fee that includes 24-7 access to the doctor by phone or email, and same-day or next-day office visits. The practices often do not work with health insurance, but patients can use their insurance for specialist visits or recommended procedures.
Although concierge practices typically offer a more welcoming environment – couches instead of hard chairs in waiting areas and robes instead of paper gowns in exam rooms – it’s more the intangibles that have people flocking to this type of care.
The model appeals to patients who don’t like waiting to get appointments, being rushed during visits, and being seen by different doctors who don’t always communicate with each other. Physicians like it because they can see and get to know fewer patients, spending more time with each and coordinating care while focusing on prevention.
“A lot of people miss having a physician who knows them, someone they can trust who they feel has their best interests at heart,” Burick said. “They want someone who can pull it all together.”
She said her patients aren’t all wealthy; they just want to invest in their health.
Angelina Musik, founder and CEO of the Concierge Medical Society, said the concierge model can be presented under different names that offer different levels of services. It is also sometimes called boutique, private-pay or direct primary care medicine, but there is no standard as to what each term means.
“There is not a lot of accountability, and state medical associations are overwhelmed when it comes to knowing how to regulate the quality of these types of packages,” she said. “There are a lot of good things about it though, and the demand is growing.”
Christopher Hager, founding physician at Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine’s Novara concierge practice, said because he has a relationship with each of his patients and is familiar with their history, they don’t always need to come into the office for care anymore.
“A lot of my time is spent managing their care when they are not in my office – with emails, phone calls and virtual visits,” he said.
Hager can work with his patients’ remote devices to monitor blood pressure, weight and sleep, tracking trends for them. He can send them a device to do a remote EKG and save them the time and cost of going for a traditional procedure.
“There are many things we can do to save them money outside of primary care,” he said. “I think this is where the future of medicine in headed.”