By Melissa Arnold
Imagine this: You’re out with friends at a barbecue and wake up the next day with an unusual rash. On top of that, you’re just not feeling well.
Most people would head to a nearby urgent care center, emergency department or doctor’s office to get checked out. In all of these situations, though, you’re probably in for a wait of several hours. And in the case of a doctor’s office, you might have to wait a few days or even longer to be seen.
But what if you could take a picture of that rash with your cellphone and text it to a doctor, who responds right away with advice before calling in a prescription? Even better, what if you could do that at any time, seven days a week?
Such direct access to a doctor isn’t just a fantasy anymore. It’s a type of care called concierge medicine, and it’s spreading rapidly across the country.
Concierge practices come in several different forms, but in all cases, patients pay an annual or semi-annual fee to their physician, even if they don’t visit the office. In exchange, patients are guaranteed shorter wait times, longer, unrushed appointments and 24/7 access if a problem arises.
The fee varies widely depending on the location of the practice and the services they offer. Some physicians will also charge based on a patient’s age or medical status.
Dr. Bruce Feldman works independently, traveling throughout Long Island and occasionally elsewhere to meet his patients at their workplace, home or another location.
“My preferred population is an executive or professional who is too busy to go to the doctor. I go directly to them,” said Feldman, who also has offices in Melville and Port Washington. “If a guy is making a fair living, the idea of driving to the doctor and having to spend time waiting usually doesn’t sit well. And yet they want to be successful at their jobs and function at an optimal level.”
Feldman does have patients come in for an initial physical, but as he gets to know them, care becomes less about face-to-face contact and more about communicating by phone or email as needed.
The biggest difference between concierge and traditional medical care, Feldman said, is the focus on preventing future health issues instead of attempting to resolve existing problems.
Both Feldman and Dr. Vasilios Kalonaros of Northport agreed that preventative care is lacking in traditional medicine, and patients are suffering for it.
“When you’re only given 15 minutes with a patient, it’s like putting your finger in a dam — you can’t always take the time to treat every issue,” Kalonaros says.
Small practices are a hallmark in concierge medicine. Most doctors limit themselves to a few hundred patients, allowing for longer visits.
Before Kalonaros made the switch to concierge medicine eight years ago, he was seeing up to 40 patients a day. Now, it varies between eight and 12. Feldman sees about four patients each day, with only 60 patients total.
And statistics show that a doctor with time to spare makes a difference for patients. According to MDVIP, a private network of physicians that includes Kalonaros, concierge patients are hospitalized 72 percent less than those seeing a traditional doctor. In addition, the American Journal of Managed Care reports that concierge medicine ultimately saves the health care system more than $300 million in Medicare expenses.
Its popularity appears to be growing, too. There are now hundreds of concierge doctors throughout the country, and more than 20 on Long Island alone.
Before choosing a concierge doctor, it’s best to determine exactly what you want. Are you looking for a doctor who takes your insurance, does house calls or has inexpensive fees? Answering these questions will help narrow the field.
Then, ask for a consultation. Use that time to get to know them, learn about their services and determine if he or she is a good fit for your needs.
Fees vary widely in the concierge world, from under $2,000 annually to more than $20,000.
Concierge medicine is familiar to some, thanks to the USA Network’s medical drama series “Royal Pains.” The show follows a cardiac surgeon who becomes a private physician for the wealthiest residents of the Hamptons.
While some of the show’s themes are accurate, its sole focus on upper-class patients is just a stereotype.
“Most of my patients are not wealthy — they are middle and lower-middle class,” Kalonaros said. He added that a concierge doctor can be a great option for those with minimal or no insurance, because his $1,650 fee guarantees access to him at any time.
And Feldman argues that when you don’t get sick in the first place, this model will save you money that would be otherwise spent on medication or more extensive treatment.
But both doctors are quick to admit it’s not the best option for everyone.
“If you have a good relationship with your existing doctor, you don’t need a concierge doctor. But if you’re frustrated or not getting the care you need and are willing to pay more, a concierge doctor might be for you,” Feldman says. “It’s about having a partner in your wellness.”
For those interested, contact Dr. Bruce Feldman at (646) 801-7541, www.mypersonaldocny.com, and contact Dr. Vasilios Kalonaros at (631) 239-1677. Or visit www.mdvip.com to learn more about concierge medicine on Long Island.