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Less Waiting, More Access, Longer Visits — Is Concierge Medicine the Right Choice for You?

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When you stay at an upscale hotel, the concierge is there to provide you special, personalized service – a restaurant recommendation, theater tickets, emergency dry cleaning, or anything else that might make you feel your preferences matter.

If you’ve experienced that kind of individual service, then you understand the concept behind what’s called concierge medicine. Concierge medicine is not a new idea – in fact, some data sources trace the idea (but not the name) all the way back to 1996, to a clinic started in Seattle. What’s different today, however, is that frustration with traditional medical care is rising and costs for concierge medicine are coming down a bit, so a growing number of patients are considering concierge medicine as an affordable (sort of) way to get the personalized care they desire.

We found this story about concierge medicine, written by writer and certified senior advisor Kate Ashford, on the NerdWallet website.  At a time when many retirees feel particularly ill-served by the type of medical care they’re receiving, is this a viable option? Let’s take a look.

An Invitation to a New Type of Medical Practice

Ashford begins her article with her own anecdote: her primary care doctor recently left regular practice and invited Ashford to join her at her new gig—a concierge medicine group. Ashford explains that, for a membership fee, she would have better, more personal access to her doctor’s services, such as same-day appointments and longer conversations.

“Concierge medicine — a model in which patients pay a membership fee for a more direct relationship with a primary care doctor — used to feel like a perk for the superwealthy,” Ashford explains. “But as fees have come down and people have gotten more frustrated with the state of traditional primary care, concierge services may not seem like such a pie-in-the-sky option. There’s less waiting, more access, longer visits and greater coordination of care. However, the fees can be high, and if you don’t have complex medical needs, it may not feel worth the expense.”

Defining the Concept of Concierge Medicine

As you may have surmised, concierge medicine is an arrangement in which a patient pays a membership fee to gain access to their doctor’s practice. This fee could cover a wide range of services, with insurance often covering everything else. Or, in some models the fee may only cover preventative care, and the practice might accept insurance for the rest.

The big difference is the level of “personal” care. Ashford writes, “Concierge medicine typically offers same-day appointments and 24/7 access to your doctor (who, by the way, isn’t rushed during visits).”

Terry Bauer, CEO of Specialdocs—a company that helps doctors transition to concierge medicine—explains, “Patients like it because they have more time with their provider, and people with a medical situation after hours can call, text or email. They have that doctor, in essence, on speed dial. It makes people a lot more comfortable and a lot less anxious.”

Care Costs Can Vary Widely

A logical next question would be: well, what do the fees for this service look like? Ashford writes, “Membership fees for concierge medicine vary widely. For one large concierge network with doctors in 44 states, the fee is typically between $1,800 and $2,200 per year (or between $150 and $183 per month). Other practices can run much more.”

Bauer says, “I know a couple that charge $4,000 a month. Doctors who charge those prices may be board certified in two specialties — cardiology and internal medicine, for instance — or they may be in an extremely wealthy area of the country.”

“The good news,” Ashford adds, “is that if you have a flexible spending or health savings account, you can use those funds to pay your annual membership fees as long as they go toward wellness benefits.”

Biggest Advantage: Faster, More Personalized Care

“There’s plenty to like about concierge medicine. It’s usually possible to get same-day or next-day appointments with your doctor, and wait times are minimal,” says Bret Jorgensen, chairman and CEO of MDVIP, a network of concierge medicine physicians. “Typically, you have access to your provider at all hours of the day, and because they have fewer patients, your doctor has more time to spend with you.”

Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider, a practicing internal medicine physician, adds, “With a smaller patient roster, your doctor can take the time to know you and your health history intimately, which can lead to more personalized and effective care. Concierge doctors can focus more on preventative care, which could potentially catch health issues early and save costs in the long run.”

Number One Drawback: the Cost

It might not be a surprise that the biggest stumbling block for many people is the cost of concierge medicine fees. Ungerleider says, “For people on a tight budget or those without substantial health care needs, this could be a significant cost without enough perceived benefit.”

It’s also worth considering that concierge doctors still make up a very small percentage of the medical field, leaving you with less options for care. And you still have to pay for hospital, emergency room, or specialist visits, or major surgeries. This makes insurance imperative.

John Hansbrough, employee benefits consultant with The LBL Group, warns, “It does not negate the need for health insurance. You need the insurance because bad stuff can still happen.”

Even so, advocates claim that concierge preventative care can actually save you money. “Consider the scenario where a text exchange with your doctor saves you a 2 a.m. trip to the emergency room,” Jorgensen says. “More than 80 percent of our interactions with our members are virtual. Those are just bundled and included in the service.”

Is Concierge Care Right for You?

Ashford writes, “Concierge medicine isn’t a slam-dunk for everyone. If you can’t afford the membership fee or are an infrequent health care user, this model probably isn’t a good fit. But it can be a game changer for patients with chronic illnesses who would benefit from the higher level of care. And for people who are frustrated by the conventional medical system, concierge care offers an alternative.”

“There are great outcomes for the doctor and patient alike,” Jorgensen says. “We consistently renew in excess of 90 percent of our patients every year.”

Rajiv’s Recommendation: Find a Geriatrician

We asked Rajiv Nagaich what he thought about this idea of paying extra for the personalized care that comes with concierge medicine. “Look, I get it,” Rajiv responded. “Traditional care these days is an exercise in frustration! Most of the time you have to wait weeks for an appointment that lasts eleven or twelve minutes – and the doctor and nurses are running like hamsters on a treadmill. If you can afford concierge medicine, it might be worth a look.”

“However,” Rajiv adds, “the real problem in my view is that too few doctors today understand the bodies and minds of aging men and women. For that, you need a geriatrician – a physician trained in art of science of keeping us well as we grow older. What’s more,” he says, “many geriatric-focused practices actually offer some of the personalized care and longer appointments that you get with concierge medicine.”

Bottom line? “Before signing up with a concierge-style clinic, seek out a geriatric physician in your area and make an appointment for a visit. You may be surprised that you can have the best of both worlds – without the high monthly fee.”

Breaking News: Rajiv’s New Book is Here!

We have big news! The long-awaited book by Rajiv Nagaich, called Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster, has been released and is now available to the public.  As a friend of AgingOptions, we know you’ll want to get your copy and spread the word.

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Through stories, examples, and personal insights, Rajiv takes us along on his journey of expanding awareness about a problem that few are willing to talk about, yet it’s one that results in millions of Americans sleepwalking their way into their worst nightmares about aging. Rajiv lays bare the shortcomings of traditional retirement planning advice, exposes the biases many professionals have about what is best for older adults, and much more.

Rajiv then offers a solution: LifePlanning, his groundbreaking approach to retirement planning. Rajiv explains the essential planning steps and, most importantly, how to develop the framework for these elements to work in concert toward your most deeply held retirement goals.

Your retirement can be the exciting and fulfilling life you’ve always wanted it to be. Start by reading and sharing Rajiv’s important new book. And remember, Age On, everyone!

(originally reported at

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