The strains of the pandemic forced many physicians to reconsider their careers. Perhaps you rank among the doctors weighing alternative practice settings. Have you considered concierge medicine?
Concierge medicine is a fee-for-service business model, often with fees for membership. Think of it as the Netflix of primary care. Patients pay a monthly fee and have access to you for primary-care needs. Physicians have the option to bill insurance companies for reimbursement in addition to the monthly membership fee. Like any business model, concierge medicine has its boons and drawbacks. Here’s how to determine if concierge medicine is right for you, according to three experts.
What to know about switching
Concierge medicine is here to stay in the post-COVID world, several physician staffing experts told us.
“We have seen that concierge medicine is a viable career option and one that is growing significantly in its demand from both a patient and provider perspective,” said Falon Verner, Vice President of Recruiting at The Medicus Firm, a physician recruitment and job placement firm.
Driving that growth are patients who are wary of traditional practice settings and/or want more personalized healthcare, Verner said. Home visits and practices with lower patient volumes may become more attractive options. Concierge may check both boxes. Though a potentially more attractive option for patients, physicians must note that concierge is a drastically different care model, according to Verner:
First, you’re opting out of Medicare.
Next, you’ll go from seeing 1,500 patients annually at 18-25 daily, to seeing 250 annually at 3-8 patients daily.
You’ll have to choose: Do I want to see patients where they are, or do I want them to come to me?
Then, there’s your career track to consider: Do you want to be part of a group concierge practice, or fly solo?
And finally, are you prepared to take calls 24/7 (which you would do if you go solo), or would you rather be a part of a team?
Location, location, location
It’s a cliche for a reason. Location is everything in concierge medicine, according to Steve Easley, SeniorVice President of Business Development at The Medicus Firm, and Tony Pate, Recruiting Principal at The Medicus Firm.
“It can be extremely important to align market and demographics to who will be both interested in your services and will fit your type or style of care,” Pate said.
According to Easley, it’s important to understand community demand for concierge medicine, since it requires patients to pay out of pocket. Proximity is another critical factor. For example, how long will it take patients to travel to your practice? The closer the better. Finally, for doctors considering at-home visits, high population density is vital.
“A doctor doesn’t want to have to drive long distances for one case when they can see multiple patients in a smaller area,” said Easley.
Geriatric patients also tend to be concierge consumers, said Verner. Good concierge locations include ones where patients aged between 60-70 years reside.
“Geriatrics that seek an active lifestyle to maintain a healthy patient panel – that is why coastal opportunities/hot spots tend to be leaders in concierge settings. Think, ‘outdoor lifestyle,’” Verner said.
It’s hard to affix an exact dollar amount, but the experts gave us some key insights. For one, you’ll need fewer patients to meet your revenue targets, Easley said. Using the example from the first bullet point, let’s say you see 250 patients annually and each pays $3,600 in access fees each year. That would put practice revenue at $900,000.
When it comes to take-home pay, Verner says she’s seen salaries ranging from $300,000 on the low end and $550,000 on the high end. Primary care access fees, she notes, typically range from $3,500-5,300 per patient annually. She adds that a Florida-based physician, currently seeking another concierge physician for their practice, is currently offering base salaries over the Medical Group Management Association median in highly desirable markets. This same Florida-based concierge practice has seen its web traffic increase by 133 percent since August, with the bulk of the traffic coming from new patient hits. The traffic spike indicates that new patients are interested in concierge medicine in that market. The demand for concierge, Verner explains, is here to stay.
“The client attributes this to patients looking for care in a setting outside of a hospital, one that is more intimate and not leaving them in a room filled with patients.”
All three experts said it’s critical for doctors weighing concierge to be clear on whether they want to be partners, or owners. Becoming a concierge-practice owner makes you a small-business owner and entrepreneur overnight. Both come with a substantial increase in the administrative burden. Join an established practice, however, and you likely would see your responsibilities decrease.
As far as the day-to-day of seeing patients, you can expect no additional administrative responsibilities. The documentation is the same, or less, depending on your revenue cycle elections and coding requirements, and you may still have the support of nurses, medical assistants, and front-office staff. According to Verner, many concierge practices pre-screen patients and obtain medical charts for pre-visit review.
The biggest adjustment for most concierge physicians, all three experts said, is a new way of doing things. That means working outside of Medicare, juggling life (and possibly cost-of-living adjustments) in a new area, and if you choose to go solo, starting a business from the ground-up. Before making the switch, know what you want, and know about the patient demographics in your target market.
Thinking about switching to concierge medicine?
For patients who can afford it, concierge is an attractive option in the post-COVID healthcare business.
Doctors who do it don’t participate in Medicare.
They also see fewer patients who pay an annual fee for primary care. Doctors can also submit for insurance reimbursement.
Concierge physicians have the option of joining existing practices or starting one.
Location is everything. You need an area that can support this more costly service.
Earnings potential appears to be on par or greater than average.
For doctors who start their own concierge practices, the administrative burden is higher. For those who join an existing practice, the burden is about the same or lower.