Ever had a problem finding a time to see your doctor that was convenient for both you and them? Sometimes it’s even hard to reach them by phone or email to make that appointment. Ever resorted to “stopping by” the ER when s/he is on duty, despite the likely added costs and wait, just because that was the only way you could see them after hours? Recent studies in the U.S. revealed that it is getting even harder for some people to get to see their primary care physician than it was a few years ago.
Although email has been around and available to the general public for a couple decades, less than one-fourth of U.S. physicians communicates with patients electronically (though the number is growing). An office visit is usually required for even the most routine things, like having a simple medical question answered or a prescription written. The reason, of course, is that it is extremely rare for an insurer to reimburse physicians for phone or e-mail consultations.
In addition, this lack of communication (and reduced time spent with patients) is perceived by many — roughly three-fourths of those surveyed by the New England Journal of Medicine — to result in lower quality care, including medical errors that would otherwise be preventable.
So, what’s the alternative?
Enter: “concierge medicine”. That is one of many terms used, but it refers to physician practices that structure their pricing & services in ways that improve accessibility and convenience for their patients but are not normally covered by 3rd-party insurers. They have been around for years in some places, though many people are not aware of them. Most have a cash-only policy, which works fine for many uninsured. Others will work with those few health insurers who recognize the value these practices provide and agree to reimburse for them. This works well for those with Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and the like.
For more information read this Brief Analysis by Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).