What gets to you the most about medical visits: waiting days or weeks to see your doctor, the hour-or-more delay when you're there -- or the feeling that, once you finally met with the doctor, you got only 10 or 15 minutes of his time?

There is an alternative, if you can afford it: concierge health care.

It's sometimes called "Cadillac health care" -- and as with a luxury car, the costs can vary greatly as you customize the final product. Program membership fees typically run from $1,500 to $25,000 a year, depending on the services chosen.

"The ultimate goal is to make the health care experience less of a nuisance on the consumer," says David Goldfarb, president of DSG Benefits Group. "They strive to make medical care more accessible and convenient to patients," adds Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

24/7 Access to a Doctor

One such company, MDVIP, has over 450 concierge physicians across the U.S., and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Procter & Gamble (PG) in 2009. Unlike a traditional practice where doctors see an average of 2,500 to 4,000 patients a year, a MDVIP practice has up to 600 patients. "Personalized wellness care replaced the traditional conveyor-belt medicine health care," says Mark Murrison, president MDVIP, marketing & innovation.

Office visits under the plan are a minimum of 30 minutes and last as long as necessary. Same-day or next-day appointments are scheduled with the patient's convenience in mind -- and there's 24/7 availability to the doctor via email and cell phone. Concierge patients get priority scheduling, so no more complaints about excessive waits.
MDVIP also has a comprehensive wellness program that includes advanced screenings and physician counseling for such issues as heart health, emotional well-being, diabetes risk and weight management. "We focus on wellness, not just illness," says Murrison. In addition, the MDVIP doctor creates an individualized wellness plan for the patient -- with goals to be implemented throughout the year.

"Patients get a focused doctor," says Dr. Jordan Shlain, medical director of another concierge health care group, Current Health -- where patients have access to a network of doctors who will see them at home, at work or at the doctor's office. "Illness doesn't wear a wristwatch," he says, "so being available 24 hours a day increases access by 60%." There are also hybrid models like Concierge Choice Physicians -- where the average physician has about 50 to 150 patients who choose the concierge option.

Not a Cure-All for What Ails Health Care

Concierge medicine isn't available everywhere, and, of course, not everyone can afford or wants to spend an additional $150 dollars or more per month for a more personalized relationship with their physician. Keep in mind, too, that membership fees for these programs are for services not covered by commercial insurance or Medicare -- things like the wellness program and wellness report every MDVIP patient receives -- and are not billed to insurance.
But standard doctors visits for the flu, hypertension, respiratory illness and the like are billed to the patient's health insurance carrier, including Medicare, just like in a traditional or conventional practice -- so you still have to pay those premiums.

Some analysts worry that, by adding costs on top of what's already paid for health care services, concierge health care makes the overall system more expensive.

"There are some concerns that it creates more of a two-tiered health care system," says Stephen Ullmann, author of the paper, Is the United States Ready to Embrace Concierge Medicine? "There is already a shortage of primary care physicians, with a significantly lower patient load per doctor, [and] concierge care can cause a greater potential shortage."

"Frankly, it is not a viable solution for creating affordable, convenient care for the entire country," says Jason Hwang, executive director of the Innosight Institute, a nonprofit think tank focused on health care issues.

Part of the Discussion

The question, then, is who might be best-suited for concierge care? "Patients who want an emphasis on prevention and wellness," says Wayne Lipton, founder and managing partner of Concierge Choice Physicians. "Those who are managing chronic illnesses, either for themselves or a loved one."

As the national health care debate continues, concierge medicine is likely to be a part of the discussion. "Concierge medicine is definitely growing," says Herrick of the National Center for Policy Analysis. "Physicians feel restrained by low reimbursements and the hassle of insurance billing and collecting from numerous insurers. Patients feel rushed and often have difficulty seeing their doctor on a timely basis. The solution for many patients and physicians is a practice model with fewer patients but more time and attention to those patients that remain."

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Teri Jo Covert

Just signed up with MDVIP a month ago. Have not gotten any correspondence from them. Tried to make an appointment with Dr. Dunlap for two weeks from now and he's not available. Tried to make the appointment a month ahead and he is still not available. The lab does not work on Mondays or Fridays and no afternoons so even if I can get in to see the doc for the wellness exam that comes with the 1600 a year I have to take off time on two different days within the same week. Nothing about this health care is convient to me. I gave up and called my regular physician and sceduled an appointment in three days. All the hype is BS, save your money and stick with what works.

September 18 2013 at 8:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Most ppl, evn the poor nowadays, pay $150 a month for cable tv. I don't bc I can't afford it & consider it a luxury.
I DO pay the extra fee to a dr for "concierge" care bc my longtime dr switched to it & my serious & complex health needs made it impossible to NOT stay w the same dr. Unfortunately, there is still no incentive, much less imperative, for the med community to get positive outcomes for patients (hospitals don't evn have to report or investigate iatragenic infections or deaths), esp those w rare or serious conditions. Quality-control is non-existant & true choice, transparency, or patient-rights are not evn in the debate. Healthcare has been hijacked from an opaque authoritarian mid 20thcentury model that was at least humane to an opaque authoritarian greedisgood model where patients are viewed as the enemy & all providers as saints. Always. The fact is there is NO independent place to report problems or even crimes against patients, & drs are indoctrinated to believe it's impossible for any bad practices or actors to get thru med school. Ever. Plus drs are licensed by state which increasingly grants near impunity even in cases like Charles Cullen & michael swango where individuals & institutions allowed serial killers to continue killing for years. Ultimately patients lose & lose more. QOL & longevity. And good doctors look the other way when confronted with colleagues who harm patients. It is a flawed system & getting worse as it grows into a bigger part of economy, further corrupting its purpose & distorting its calling to put ppl over profit. But concierge care is NOT the problem. It's a symptom at best. And if it leads to better outcomes (which shld be measurable) it may help turn tide back to more humane healthcare. More important than cable tv & less of a luxury.

June 22 2013 at 8:10 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Unbelievable. My entire comment was erased when I signed in to "submit" it. In short: I pay for concierge bc my longtime dr switched to it & due to serious illness I had no real choice. Yes it feels like extortion at first, but on other hand most ppl, evn poor ppl, pay $150 mo for cable tv w/o blinking. I'm poor by All reasonable measurements but am also quite physically ill. Unfortunately patients have no real rts, there's no transparency or true free market choice or competition, so hc has become inhumane & decent treatment is the exception. Hospitals act with impunity evn in egregious cases like serial killers charles cullen, michael swango, & serial infector kwiatkowsky. Patients with legitimate needs are seen as the enemy & those w real grievances are vilified. Quality control is nonexistant, hospitals are not required to report iatrogenic deaths, complications, or infections, & simple rational measures like checklists & handwashing are resisted. The old opaque authoritarian model, which was at least intending to be humane, has been replaced by a monstrous opaque convoluted greedisgood model that has hijacked debate & resists giving patients any voice, much less dignity.
Listen to disabled ppl & ppl who have chronic, serious, complex or rare illness & thus frequent interactions w the system if u want to improve it. The patients' voices must be.part of the discourse & need to be heard, respected, & heeded .
Or allow the profit-mongers to continue diminishing QOL, longevity,& true dignity in life. Death comes to all eventually but shld not be hastened by poor healthcare standards. Healthcare shld be primarily concerned with helping the ill & disabled to LIVE with dignity & diminished pain. Killing off or undertreating or failing to diagnose shld not be the norms. In fact, the focus on advanced directives is troubling bc in most cases even reasonable measures to save life are not tried. Hypothermic technology is available & shld be employed by EMTs in cases of heartattack & stroke. Many ppl, evn victims of catastrophic illness, cld have improved QOL if there were a true imperative to improve outcomes & to use technology more humanely rather than to make new gadgets to distract us from real problems.
No one begrudges providers a good living, but ultimately healthcare must have improved customer/ patient outcomes as its goal. Ultimately not "just" lives & quality of lives, but even money will be saved by preventing unnecessary infections & injuries.

June 22 2013 at 7:29 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to albertimo's comment

Not only did my original comment end up posting (second one is probably better after all) but apparently I accidentally thumbsdowned my own comment. Oh internet, u r really something!

June 22 2013 at 8:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

people may be singing a different toon when they are waiting in line behind the 15,000,000 that will be added to (and paid for my tax payers) Medicaid. What will follow closely on the heels will be millions of newly "legalized" illegal aliens despite what current "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" says, coverage will be expanded by politicians so as to not be called "racist" and out of "compassion" (we don't even allow feeding the bears in national parks because of fear they will become dependent and not be able to fend for themselves ...)

March 28 2013 at 4:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

RUN AWAY!!!! MDVIP is a scam! It wasn't fully explained to me that it would be $1500 PER YEAR. I was told $1500 one time to get a "thorough physical" and VIP treatment by my doc. Realizing I didn't want to leave my doctor, i reluctantly agreed to participate. When I didn't get a call back for months to schedule my "VIP" Physical, I called to cancel to make sure I wasn't billed my second installment on my card and to get a refund for my first payment, but they wouldn't refund my payment because they said I had "access" to special advice online. Come on guys, seriously? So I tried to charge it back and they will fight it tooth and nail. And to boot, I can't take it off my FSA. DO NOT fall into this trap. Leave your physician ASAP if they join this group. It's a scam to make your doctor more money that you don't have in this economy.

December 03 2012 at 7:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My MD is a solo-practice concierge physician, and I have never been happier with a doctor. She's available when I need to see her, either the day I call or the next day, and I have her 24 hr. cel phone as well. I didn't want to pay that kind of money ($1500) but the MD group connected to the medical center I work for had become such a disorganized mess, so bad my health was jeopardized, that I had to re-think it. I dumped my own facility's medical group for an independant, and it's very much worth the money. Like everything else, every MD is different with their own personality. I got lucky. I will never go back to those other clowns.

February 01 2011 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to khamada1's comment

Instead of having to pay more for reasonable to expect health care, The "clowns" should be straightened out or have their licenses removed. People should not have to pay more so as not to be in danger!!!!!

February 01 2011 at 8:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Doctors are the biggest crooks of all.

February 01 2011 at 7:45 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to ByTheShoreMan's comment

Bwing a nurse working in the health care industry and also having worked with attorneys. I would have to say that attorneys are the biggest crooks.

February 01 2011 at 8:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would bet you would regret that statement if they saved the life of one of your loved ones. I pay $90 just to get someone to come and fix my dryer and that's his flat fee before parts and labor.

February 01 2011 at 11:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Note to my government: how I handle my health care is NOT your choice. It is MY choice. You are not my mama, you are not my daddy, and you are not my nanny. I am an adult, and I expect to be treated that way. I've had enough of being told what to eat; I'll decide that myself. I've had enough of being told which doctor to see; I'll decide that myself. Is this getting through? I'd type slower if I thought it would help elected officials and bureaucrats understand.

February 01 2011 at 6:23 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to geddy37's comment
Beverly Ruedi

You must be very wealthy if your health care is actually your choice. We are average middle class folks and our health care is absolutely controlled by our insurance company. We pay huge premiums to be told which doctors we can see (or else we have to pay huge co-pays) and which medicines we can take (forget brand name drugs). We also do not always know when something will be covered. I ate some bad food at a restaurant at few years ago and because the emergency room doctor did not want to fill out the forms for food poisoning our insurance company refused to pay. I personally would realy like some protection from my greedy insurance company and the health care bill is at least doing one thing: Our insurance company is one of many who spend a large percentage of their premiums on executive pay but that is no longer allowed. Sounds good to me!

February 01 2011 at 7:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@ geddy...Stop, enough with the drama queen syndrom...this article isn't about you and your distain for your government, it's about very expensive HC that you probably can't afford anyway. BTW, your insurance company has been telling you what to do for years, you just don't want to admit it. Your government isn't telling/forcing you to eat what they want you to eat, your Dr who is paid by your insurance carrier is. Your government isn't telling you what Dr to see, your insurance carrier is unless you have a wide open plan where you go where you want, and you probably pay a premium for it. Now git

February 01 2011 at 8:56 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Are "convenience stores" worth the money? You pay more to get what you want faster. The question of whether they are worth it are a matter of how one chooses to order their life, and that's the essence of America.

February 01 2011 at 6:17 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

"Concierge" health care is what all health care was until about 25 years ago.

February 01 2011 at 5:59 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Penny's comment

yes. I do remember when health care was much more humaine than today. Our health care system was so different. Until greed entered into the picture.

February 01 2011 at 7:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply