I have recently been involved with two physicians who have each set up a “direct patient care” practice. I have no idea if this is going to be a trend, but I hope it will be.
I suspect that if you have seen one DPC practice, you have seen one DPC practice – so I hesitate to talk about the “model”. Nevertheless, I think talking about how these two practices operate might stimulate conversation, and get other physicians thinking about “taking the plunge”. Both the practices have a few things in common.
First, they do not accept insurance, unlike concierge practices which still accept insurance and charge an additional membership fee on an annual basis. One of the practices I represent does give its patients CPT codes to assist in obtaining reimbursement, but the other does not. The practices charge a fixed monthly fee for “all-you-need” care in the practice, ranging from $10-$100 per month (based on age) in a primary care practice, and $25-$45 per month for a gynecological practice. Foregoing insurance reimbursement allows for a bare-bones staff, since billing is accomplished automatically through a charge to the patient’s credit card each month. By saving a massive amount of overhead, the physicians are able to limit the size of their practice and give the attention to each patient that the physician feels is required. (No six patients an hour in these practices!)
Secondly, they provide continuous, 24/7 access to the patients in their panel for acute issues via email, text, and/or phone. Patients are given the physician’s cell phone number for after-hours care.
In addition, they both have access to discounted pricing from a radiology facility, a lab, and several specialists, saving the patients even more money.
The primary care practice has been established longer, and it has developed a host of enhancements for its patients. The practice has its own dispensary, where patients can get their generic medications at wholesale with a very modest mark-up of 10%. The physician has saved patients hundreds of dollars a year (for some patients, thousands of dollars) over the cost of medicine through pharmacies.
Even without the discounts, patients can potentially save a great deal of money with these practices. Instead of paying a hefty co-pay every time they see the physician, patients in these practices just pay one fixed monthly fee, which is often very close to the cost of a single co-pay.
Most importantly, the patients get a physician that has the time to get to know them, and spend however much time is needed to treat him or her. Office visits typically range from 30-60 minutes per patient.
The physicians get to spend most of their time healing patients, rather than supervising a massive staff and fighting with insurance companies.
The physicians can’t escape every woe, of course. HIPAA, CLIA, OSHA, etc. are still applicable. If they are treating Medicare patients, they need special waivers, and a patient contract must be developed.
Still, DPC seems like a great thing for patients and physicians alike.
Time will tell if this model fulfills its promise – but early indications are that it will!