HOW TO CHOOSE A CONCIERGE PHYSICIAN – PART 1
If you think you deserve better health care—and you do—you may have started looking for a concierge medical practice. You’ll discover pretty quickly that not all practices that call themselves “concierge” are alike. Rather, it’s up to each physician to design their own practice.
This diversity is great because it allows you to find a practice best suited to you, but it does make it challenging to compare. So in this post and two more to follow, we’d like to offer a guide to finding a concierge physician.
What makes us the experts? Well, we started the nation’s first concierge practice, right here in Denver in 1998, so we’ve been following the field’s growth pretty closely. Here are some questions and considerations that every prospective patient should ask as you seek the right practice for yourself and your family.
Where to start?
If you’re looking for a doctor who’s good at treating people like you, a logical place to start would be to ask people you like! Neighbors and colleagues are the best sources of referral for a relationship that’ll be important in your life and could last many years.
If you’ve been treated by a surgeon or specialist you admired, you could ask them as well. Usually referrals go the other way, from generalist to specialist, but why not? Surgeons and medical specialists have a unique perspective because they know their patients will have better results if they have strong support before and after treatment.
There are also search engines, of course. Useful search phrases include concierge physician, private family physician, and boutique internist. If the search turns up a practice website that catches your eye, be sure it fully explains their expertise, philosophy, and business practices. (One caveat: If a practice emphasizes patient privacy, as ours does, don’t be put off by a low number of public reviews.)
Got a name? Check ’em out
Once you find a name or two that interest you, a quick, easy, and free way to sleuth out potential troublemakers is to check with your state’s medical board. In Colorado that’s the Colorado Medical Board at https://dpo.colorado.gov/medical. Click on Discipline and Enforcement and then Lookup Licensee Discipline and you can find information about any disciplinary action.
What you should find is a full, unrestricted license and a total lack of sanctions—no news is good news. That’s what you’ll find (or rather, not find) on the doctors at the Sheldon Sowell Center: Our physicians have never been sanctioned by the Medical Board or any other professional body.
When can we meet?
Does the practice offer a low-pressure, no-cost opportunity to meet your prospective doctor? It should: This could be the most important job interview you’ll ever conduct! Write your questions down beforehand and refer to them so you don’t neglect anything that’s important to you.
If the doctor you’ve chosen to interview seems pressed for time, you can be sympathetic, but consider moving on.
There’s experience, and then there’s experience
You’ll want to ask how many years the practice has been open, but then go a bit deeper, because not all experience is equal. How long has each physician been practicing this type of medicine? And, a bit of a curveball: Did this practice start as an insurance-based practice?
Since the vast majority of medical practices are insurance-based, this may seem like an odd question. The reason to ask it is that the transition from working for the insurance companies to working directly and exclusively for patients doesn’t happen overnight. Sure, doctors fantasize about breaking free of insurance, but very few do it, and for those who do take the plunge, it takes time to break out of old habit patterns and assumptions—three to five years, we estimate. During that break-in period, the doctor may not have hit their stride yet.
The Sheldon Sowell Center for Health was founded in 1998 from the ground up by two physicians who were determined to create a practice in which they could treat each patient the way they themselves wanted to be treated. Simply put: We’re good at this.
What’s your patient-doctor ratio?
This may be the handiest metric of all by which to gauge a concierge practice’s true level of commitment to patients. Are they willing to forego quantity to deliver the highest quality? There is a fairly straightforward inverse relationship between the two.
Insurance-based physicians have up to 2,400 patients. Can you imagine getting to know 2,400 people well enough to treat them like family? Neither can we.
The largest concierge practices see 1,200 patients per physician—a 50% improvement but still a colossal burden.
And at the Sheldon Sowell Center? Each of our doctors has a maximum caseload of 120 patients. This is nearly unheard-of in primary care in the U.S. or anywhere else on Earth for that matter.
Next post: Support staff, location, referrals, travel and more.