Direct Primary Care a New Option for Patients to Receive High-Quality Medical Care at Affordable Prices
Medical laboratories prepared to receive direct payments for services rendered will have an advantage as more physicians’ practices convert to concierge medicine and stop taking insurance or Medicare
A growing number of physicians are looking at new care delivery models as increasing costs and narrow networks drive patients into high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). These can include concierge medicine and direct primary care. Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups will need to adapt to these new models of healthcare.
Concierge medicine is basically an alternative medical practice model. Its main benefit is providers see far fewer patients and can provide higher-quality care to patients who can afford to pay the fees. Dark Daily reported on this growing trend as far back as 10 years ago (see, “More Doctors Consider Concierge Medicine as Healthcare Reform Looms,” June 8, 2009), and as recently as this year (see, Some Hospitals Launch Concierge Care Clinics to Raise Revenue, Generating both Controversy and Opportunity for Medical Laboratories, April 23, 2018.)
Now, a new payment program called Direct Primary Care (DPC), which is emerging as an alternative to traditional health insurance plans, could further help patients in HDHPs—and the uninsured—afford quality healthcare.
The main difference between DPC and concierge medicine lies in how doctors get compensated. Monthly membership fees are usually the only source of revenue for DPC practices and they do not accept any type of insurance. Concierge practices, on the other hand, bill insurance companies and Medicare for covered medical services and collect membership fees for services that are not covered.
In general, if a third-party payer is not involved, the practice is considered Direct Primary Care.
DPC versus Concierge Medicine: How Do They Compare?
Direct Primary Care is an offshoot of concierge medicine and the two terms are often used interchangeably. Although similar, there are distinct differences between the two models of care.
Concierge medicine was created in the mid 1990’s and was originally used by wealthy patients who were willing to pay a high subscription fee for access to select physicians. However, this model has changed over the years, making concierge medicine economically available to lower income individuals as well.
According to Concierge Medicine Today, the majority of concierge medicine plans cost between $51 and $225 per month in 2017. Eleven percent of concierge plans charge less than $50, and 35% cost more than $226 per month. There are some high-end concierge plans that can cost upwards of $30,000 per year.
Direct Primary Care was started in the mid 2000’s as an insurance-free plan mainly for the uninsured. In 2015, the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine reported that the average monthly cost for patients on a DPC plan was $93.26 among the 116 practices they surveyed. The range in costs at that time was $26.67 to $562.50 per month. They also found that practices that identified themselves as “Direct Primary Care” charged a lower fee on average than concierge practices.
The patient base also varies between the two types of practices. According to Cypress Concierge Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., DPC physicians usually treat younger patients with an annual household income of less than $50,000, while concierge medicine doctors typically treat patients over the age of 45 who have an annual household income of $75,000 or more.
Physicians in both plans try to limit the number of patients they serve to a few hundred to ensure they can provide the best possible care to their clients.
Physicians Like Direct Primary Care Programs
DPC physicians charge a monthly membership fee for their services based on the patient’s age, the type of practice, and the number of individual family members on the DPC plan. The monthly fee includes routine office visits—usually with no co-pays—and almost constant access to a physician through telemedicine technology.
DPC plans also provide same or next-day appointments for members and offer lower costs for pharmaceuticals and lab tests.
Direct Primary Care programs are attractive to physicians who often feel overworked by too many patients, too much tedious paperwork, too much time dealing with insurance companies and too little time to provide quality care.
“There are thousands of physicians in career crisis who are investigating new ways to practice medicine and in essence, love going to work again,” noted Michael Tetreault, Editor-in-Chief of The DPC Journal.Jeffrey Gold, MD, a Family Practice specialist in Marblehead, Mass., left his position with a successful physicians group to launch his own DPC practice.
“It’s really blue-collar concierge medicine,” Gold told the Boston Globe. He added that his former practice model “was all about volume and coding and how many people a day you can see.”
“I couldn’t do it anymore,” he admitted. “It was not aligned with how I grew up thinking about medicine.”
DPC/Concierge Practices Expected to Increase in Numbers
With a growing number of patients in high-deductible health plans, concierge medicine and DPC practices are expected to increase in number. According to Direct Primary Care Frontier, an online resource that supports DPC, in 2014 there were only 125 DPC practices in the US. However, by April of 2017, that number had jumped to 620, and as of March 2018, the estimated number of DPC practices was 790.
Similarly, in 2010, there were between 2,400 and 5,000 concierge medical practices in the US, and by 2014, that number had increased to 12,000, according to the American Journal of Medicine.
Like concierge medicine, Direct Primary Care clients present a relatively new method for clinical laboratories to succeed and be profitable. Because there is no need to be in insurance networks—and patients pay cash for lab tests—DPC patients may prove to be an excellent source of business for medical laboratories that can adapt to DPC practices.