FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, August 12, 2005

Concierge Healthcare: Doctors At Your Service

It's perhaps a natural outgrowth of the current state of US healthcare that some doctors would offer exclusive services to their more discriminating clientele. Practicing what is called concierge care or boutique care, these primary care physicians limit their patient rosters, allowing them to provide more individualized care, spend more time with patients, reduce wait times, offer 24x7x365 access, provide luxury surroundings at their practices, and even make house calls! Some will even accompany patients to specialists to ask questions and coordinate treatment.

Of course, this all comes at a price. Most concierge doctors charge an annual retainer fee for their services (anywhere from $1,500 to over $10,000 per person), and not all of their services are covered by health insurance. Plus, even advocates of concierge care say that better services doesn't necessarily equal better quality of care. Katherine Harmer, the founder and president of concierge care provider Higher Care, says, "We don't say better care, because, quite frankly, when you walk into a concierge practice you will probably walk out with the same diagnosis and treatment that you would get at a traditional practice."

Concierge healthcare is controversial for obvious reasons: why, after all, should quality service be reserved for the wealthy? If concierge healthcare catches on, expect a trickle-down effect and multiple tiers of service; "better-than-average" providers may emerge with fees more affordable than the ultra-premium services. Employers, moreover, may find that offering paid membership in concierge services -- and pre-paying for some services -- is an attractive and cost-effective employee benefit.

The mere fact that concierge healthcare exists points to the problems of our current healthcare "system." But as long as we have market-driven healthcare, services like concierge care are logical if not necessarily fair.

Sources: Hospital Impact, Departures.com