One area of health care is taking a step away from the industry. "Private medicine" – commonly known as concierge care – is a small but growing trend, with California at its center. We visit a practice in El Dorado Hills.
The True Health Center For Functional Medicine sits in an average looking corporate business park. But there’s nothing average about the doctor’s office inside.
Patients check in at a marble countertop, and can sip hot tea in the waiting room. They’ll see one of the two ‘private' physicians here. Patients pay an annual membership of $2,400 for this concierge care.
“I called today to get an appointment, thinking I wouldn’t get it for a couple of days, and I'm in today,” says Darrin Stafford, who wanted to get checked for an ear infection before he goes on a flight.His annual membership fee also buys unlimited access to his doctor through phone or email. And he wants to maintain that timely access the traditional health care system undergoes fundamental changes next year.
“I wouldn’t want to be in a position where I couldn’t get that. So I think now more than ever I feel more comfortable now spending the money, than I would have a few years ago," says Stafford.
Convenience is not the only thing patients buy here. They get more time with their doctor too. Yearly preventive exams include hi-tech skin cancer scans and ultrasounds to measure cardiovascular risks. Patients also have access to a health coach.
"This is a little bit more thorough, you ask more questions, you get better answers," says Marcus Gomez, leaving his doctor's visit with a bag of vitamins and a folder of personal health information.
Gomez pays the yearly fee in addition to his health insurance.
Gomez' physician, Dr. Kristine Burke says that pays her to uncover patterns that might lead to illness, so that disease can be prevented.
"Rather than waiting until disease develops and then diagnosing that disease and managing it from that point forward, we try to look for the earlier evidence of 'what may cause something to go wrong?'"
Dr. Burke practiced traditional medicine for over a decade. She was responsible for thousands of patients, now she’s responsible for about 200.
"Visits were short and the volume was high; that is how medicine is practiced these days. And I just became increasingly dissatisfied with what I felt like I could do for my patients in that limited amount of time," Burke says.
Burke says she used to see 22 patients a day. Now she sees six to eight patients in the same amount of time.
She says private medicine is not just for wealthy people. She says her patients pay more because they see health as an investment. She says her practice is an alternative to a trend in mainstream health care that cuts costs at the expense of individual health.
“We are not all the same and treatments should not be applied to us uniformly as if we were all identical clones of one another,” she says.
Dr. Burke says patients come to her for many reasons. Some are looking for optimal health. Others have complicated conditions that other doctors have not been able to solve.
The American Academy of Private Physicians says there are about 5,500 private doctors in the U.S, and the numbers keep growing.
"People, in an effort to seek out physicians that are more 'health creators' than simply 'body repair shops,' are finding their way into the care of private physicians," says Tom Blue of the Academy.
He says the private physician movement started in the mid-1990s. The type of care varies, but the direct payment between doctor and patient is what defines it.
"Insurance companies can’t pay for everything for everybody, but we have left it to the discretion of the payers to decide the degree of prevention that people are able to consume. Unless they want to step outside the system and decide for themselves," adds Blue.
Blue says under a federal health care overhaul, more people may try to seek out a private doctor. Burke says it’s possible fewer people might have access to doctors like her if costs get in the way. In either scenario, the people paying for concierge are the ones who can afford it.
(Kristine Burke, M.D.) Great medical practice and team. Dr. Burke's personal attention to detail and explanation to my questions are greatly appreciated. I'm so grateful I found Dr. Burke. Her enthusiasm and knowledge is refreshing as we dig through years of health issues I could not find solutions or causes for. I found out many of my issues resulted from damaging prescrip...
(Kristine Burke, M.D.) I love this practice model! I've never felt better. Find the problem and fix it instead of treat the problem with drugs - brilliant!
(Kristine Burke, M.D.) I greatly appreciate the availability of the Dr.'s time and short waits for appointments. I think being rushed in and out serves little purpose. From the day I started going to Dr. Burke I expressed my expectations of my doctor, which are what we get now. I'm sure there is a lot I don't understand in terms of insurance coverage and laws in this state,...
(Kristine Burke, M.D.) I am pleased with the practice because you are an essential part of my health improvement plan, my health is improving, I like the extensive nature of healthcare, the practice continues to evolve in a positive direction, the amount of time spent with Dr. Burke is excellent, I don't feel rushed and all questions are answered, and the staff is helpful, ...
(Kristine Burke, M.D.) I like that I am not just treated for a specific symptom, but that my overall health is evaluated. I like that I can call and usually get an appointment for myself or my children within 24 hours, and sometimes the same day if crucial. The fact that my daughter gets free healthcare through her employer (Sutter Health) and sees Sutter providers but she ...
I feel sooo.....happy that I was introduced to True Health Center For Functional Medicine. All of the employees are present and much more involved in the individual's health. Thank You!