There's a reason your doctor doesn't look well. Physician shortages, heavy patient loads, and stacks of paperwork make docs more time-strapped than ever. A GP would need to work 22-hour days to tend fully to the roughly 2,500 people in a typical practice, according to researchers at UC San Francisco. And while the Affordable Care Act provides insurance for those who need it most, the extra patients that result are sure to pinch physicians even more. It's a wonder more doctors aren't calling in sick.
Direct-care practitioners offer a solution — for people who can afford it. These doctors charge annual fees in exchange for on-demand care. While a typical GP sees 20 to 40 patients a day, concierge docs see between 10 and 15. That means less waiting, more face time, and a better handle on your health, says Steven Knope, M.D., the author of Concierge Medicine. What's more, it allows physicians to shift their focus from disease treatment to health optimization. Ready to sign up? Read the fine print first.
How much does it cost?
Charges can vary widely based on your needs, but two general models prevail.
Fee for care: Physicians using this model don't accept insurance but instead contract directly with patients. Fees range from $50 a month to (gulp) $25,000 a year and cover all care–unlimited office visits, on-call services, extensive annual physicals, and advocacy within the health care system during hospital stays or emergencies. You still use your insurance to help pay for specialists, hospitalizations, diagnostic tests, and blood work.
Fee for noncovered services: Doctors accept insurance for care itself, while the fee goes toward cushy extras such as same-day visits, e-mail access, and nutrition and fitness coaching. Price points vary, but the national average is about $1,700 a year.
No matter which model you choose, you still need insurance in case of an emergency. Most people opt for a plan with a higher deductible, says Tom Blue, executive director of the American Academy of Private Physicians.
How do you choose a doc?
Your first step is to visit privatephysicians.com and search by location. Then set up interviews with doctors. In addition to inquiring about cost, ask if their office handles insurance claims for services they provide or if that's your job. Make sure you can text or e-mail the doctor. Find out what's included in the annual physical and how much time is allocated for office visits. Check on emergency availability. If you have a specific health goal in mind (like losing 10 pounds), ask for a sample plan.
Medicine by the numbers
Percentage decrease in hospitalizations among patients ages 35 to 64 who are insured members of a concierge practice, versus those who are not members
Percentage of doctors planning to cut back on patients, work part-time, retire, or switch to a concierge practice in the next one to three years
Number of minutes a U.S. physician allocates for a routine patient appointment
Sources: American Journal of Managed Care, 2012 Physicians Foundation Survey, Medical Care