Monday, December 03, 2007

The Opposite of Turnstile Medicine

My clinic experience this year was an incredible treat for me. It was a rare setting where the doctors are paid a set salaried wage, rather than based on the the number of procedures they did (fee-for-service). I was amazed at how differently the day went than it might go in a walk-in clinic.

Instead of racing through the patients as if there was a turnstile at the door that went 'ka-ching' for every patient in and out, the doctors were taking the time to address the whole-body health of the patient - something I hadn't seen a whole lot of in family practice so far.

Though I could give many examples, I keep thinking about one particular patient for whom this clinic worked particularly well. He presented with a rash.

If he had gone to a walk-in clinic, he would probably have gotten some steroid cream within a minute and been told to come back if the rash didn't go away.

At this clinic, however, knowing that she had fifteen minutes for this patient, the doctor took the time to take a full history, considering a wide possibility of conditions that could be causing the problem.

Through this history, the doctor learned that the patient was in a high-risk relationship for a number of sexually transmitted infecitons, and as a result, was able to counsel the patient on a number of risk-reduction measures and vaccinations that he should consider.

Another benefit of this clinic was that it was incredibly integrated - there were counsellors, nurses, a travel medicine specialist, a mental health intake worker, a sexual health specialist, and a physiotherapist all on site. I have heard a lot of team medicine, but haven't seen it come into play very often, so it was amazing seeing these professionals work together for the best interests of their patients.

For example, with this same patient, when the relationship came up in the history it became evident that his partner was a source of a lot of stress. Upon going over the additional stresses in this patient's life, and calculating the toll they were taking on him, the doctor uncovered that the patient was at risk for suffering from depression... and scheduled a follow-up visit - not only with a doctor - but with the counsellor on site as well.

Not only did the doctors simply refer the patients to the other health professionals, but I saw on a routine basis these other clinic staff come chat with the physician - or the physician go to their offices - to talk about a particularly unique patient and brainstorm on how to best take care of them.

These doctors really cared for their patients, more so than just getting the right diagnosis or catching the most medical conditions. Time and time again, they were willing to go above and beyond, even if it meant pouring a bit of extra effort and energy into a certain patient. It was obvious that time and time again they were making a difference in their patient's lives, and occasionally actually saving lives.

Don't get me wrong - there are rarely any physicians who don't want to take good care of their patients, and a number of family practitioners work as their own business and thus have to work extremely hard just to make ends meet - but after my past experiences observing family medicine, I was amazed to be coming home at the end of each shift thinking, "If family practice can really be like this, instead of just trying to cram in as many patients as possible, maybe I could see myself doing that kind of medicine in some form." Up until now, family practice was near the bottom of my list of interests.

I don't think the uniqueness of this clinic could all be attributed to how the payment schedule is structured, especially considering how much care these doctors had for their patients. But when I look at how this clinic is structured, and how every work day isn't a race to pile up completed charts, I now have a bit of a better idea of what type of career I'd prefer for myself, and also what I'll look for when I choose my own family doctor.


Anonymous said...

Generally speaking, if a clinic isn't rushing to pile up charts, then there are people who didn't get seen. The alternative is that there are many more employees per patient, and much higher costs.

It sounds like concierge medicine. I think that's a great system if it isn't outlawed by government healthcare.

Anonymous said...

Who pays the doctors' salaries? I don't understand.

Dr Andy said...

I left a busy group practice in Fort Myers, Florida in 2005 to start my house-call based concierge practice. Originally I tried to deal with insurances but since none pay for house-calls, and Medicare only reimburses minimally, I couldn't make it viable. In our area it's not uncommon for me to drive 30-45min between visits and I typically spend 45-60min with a patient. Hence I was drawn to the concierge business model. I am still the ONLY concierge physician in South-West Florida exclusively making house-calls in Lee and Collier counties.
No mistake, my services are a luxury item and convenience for most of my patients. I charge $2000-$6000 a year per person, depending on age, size of family, and location.
I know it's not the answer to our health care crisis, but I certainly love my job again! Besides I get to see my kids more.
Two other key points for the lay-person to understand. Just because I charge above what insurance pays, doesn't make me rich. I actually made less than our city pays bus drivers for the past 2 years, although admittedly the potential is significant. Also, even though most of my patients are the "rich and famous" of our area, doesn't absolve me or any concierge physician of our responsibility to the community. In fact this is a responsibility of each of my patients as well.
I continue to be an active office in the US Army Reserve, chair the Health Advisory Committee of the Lee County School District, volunteer as a Guardian ad Litem serving abused and neglected kids, teach Head Start program moms about child care, etc...
No, concierge medicine isn't for everyone, but it certainly has worked for me and my patients.
Andrew Oakes-Lottridge, MD
Personalized Health Care, Inc.

Anonymous said...

Wayne M. Burr, MD, PL
Concierge Internal Medicine
9407 Cypress Lake Dr., Ste. C
Fort Myers, FL 33919

My concierge medical practice offers services not typically found in this type of practice. Included in the annual fee, clients have access to a Registered Dietitian, Massage therapy and personal fitness trainers. In fact, we are the only concierge medical practice in Southwest Florida offering this comprehensive approach to wellness - most times at a fee much less than others concierge practices in this area.

Attractions to our concierge medicine practice that most see are those of not waiting for an appointment, on time appointments and the option of healtcare delivered in our office or the client's home/office. We make the delivery of healthcare as easy as possible.

Although this type of practice is not for everyone, it does offer another choice in how a person recieves his/her care.