Low-cost concierge can be possible

Despite its upscale connotation, 'concierge' care doesn't have to cost patients a bundle, according to a New York Times profile of One Medical Group, a 31-physician medical group that offers patients VIP-like services for just $150 to $200 a year.

Unlike most concierge practices, One Medical, founded by Dr. Tom X. Lee, a physician and co-founder of Epocrates, accepts a variety of insurance plans, including Medicare. By paying that extra $200 a year directly to the practice, thousands of patients across the practice's two offices in San Francisco and New York (with a third planned to open in Manhattan) gain access to unrushed, same-day appointments; email communication with doctors; home monitoring of chronic conditions; and other personalized services.

While more established practices, such as Oregon's Greenfield Health and Greenhouse Internists in Philadelphia, offer similar services to patients for the same cost or less, One Medical is the first group to execute the model on this grand a scale, the Times reports.

Experts such as Dr. Ashish Jha, an associate professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, while commending the model in general, question whether it could be rolled out more broadly to include an older population with more chronic conditions.

Lee is more optimistic, saying, "We've designed the model so that on average we'll do fine, no matter how often people come in. Independent of the people we see, our cost structure is lower, and because it's lower we can care for any demographic."

Some of the ways One Medical keeps its overhead low--thus allowing physicians to see just 16 patients on average per day--include automating processes whenever possible and carefully scrutinizing orders for CT scans and other tests. Because patients feel that physicians are taking more time with them, and therefore validating their concerns, Lee says they're more likely to trust a physician's judgment about whether a test is necessary.

To learn more:
- read the story in the New York Times