3 Signs that Retainer Physicians are the Future of Health Care

Frustrated that he was spending more of his time filling out forms than caring for patients, Dr. Richard Lewis left his urgent care practice at a Milwaukee-area hospital system to open Your MD, an independent clinic in Mequon. His goal is to offer family medical care services where both the patient and the doctor are able to develop long-term, trusting relationships and as a result, deliver excellent care.

Dr. Lewis is not the first physician to offer what some call near-site/on-site care, retainer medicine, or concierge care. I simply refer to it as the independent community physician because these physicians own and operate their clinics outside of health systems and insurance networks. With missions to bring quality and affordable care to members, I expect we will see the return of the independent community physician in clinics like Your MD all over the country, and especially in metro Milwaukee.

The independent primary care model is the way of the future and there are three strong signs in today?s healthcare marketplace that prove it.

The current system is overwhelmed.
Even with a robust practice of doctors and nurse practitioners, many physicians groups have more than 15,000 patients under their care. This impossible roster means wellness exams scheduled months in advance, long waits for urgent care, and difficulty seeing the same doctor twice. Patients and physicians are becoming fed up with this system, which relies on electronic medical records for continuity instead of personal relationships. Dr. Lewis, for example, makes himself available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for his patients, whether it is a 15-minute phone call or a 30-minute office exam. His clinic membership is capped at 600 patients to ensure he can fulfill this promise.

Consumers are counting their pennies.
Higher deductibles mean consumers are paying more attention to their out-of-pocket health costs, scrutinizing bills, and conducting cost comparisons. Some are finding that the hospital systems in their network are more expensive than the alternative, out-of-network providers. Others appreciate the annual physical exam that insurance covers, but then have trouble justifying a $300 charge to see their doctor every time they have a cold. Independent community physicians work with patients to make free-from-network referrals for additional care needs. After the monthly membership fee of $60 for an individual, Dr. Lewis charges $25 per office visit, which he hopes will encourage members to keep their preventive wellness a top priority.

Businesses are seeing real results.
Small and mid-sized employers are buying memberships to near-site independent community physician clinics and large employers are bringing physicians onsite as part of corporate wellness programs. The benefits are many. Physicians have had a greater impact because they have the time and relationship to be able to coach employees on challenging lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, weight loss, and stress management. Companies have experienced lower absenteeism for long commutes to off-site doctor visits, increased morale, higher worker productivity, and lower healthcare costs.

The return of the friendly neighborhood doctor is an appealing one as corporate America struggles to keep up with double-digit plan rate increases year over year. With this new model, patients win because they can improve their overall health and wellness while reducing out-of-pocket costs. And physicians win because they can get back to the initial intention of practicing medicine ? to help people. No insurance plans or health system strings attached.

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