Is a concierge doctor worth the cost?

July 18, 2011

In the mid-1990s, two doctors working with members of the Seattle Supersonics designed the plan for concierge medicine. Their idea was to charge as much as six figures per year to provide “highly attentive medicine,” as one doctor put it, to a few ultra-rich patients at a time.

Concierge medicine has evolved since then. Today, concierge doctors often charge patients more reasonable annual fees in place of billing health insurance companies. Incentives include same-day appointments and 24-hour access. Concierge care can cost as little as $600 annually, and studies show it is popularizing: Last year, MedPAC, a Congress-created commission, found that the number of concierge practices had increased fivefold since 2005.

Is concierge care worth the money?

“If you don’t have health insurance and you’re someone who sees a doctor frequently, [concierge prices are] not that bad,” says Christie Hazlet, 28, who works for a film production company outside Los Angeles.

Hazlet’s primary care doctor transitioned to a concierge model in 2009. That transition, Hazlet says, was abrupt. She received a letter in the mail one day from her doctor saying she could either pay a $2,000 annual membership fee or find a new doctor. She considered joining but decided against it.

“With my health insurance, doctor visits are $40,” Hazlet says, noting that she generally sees a primary care doctor twice annually. “It wasn’t cost effective.”

But some concierge medicine advocates say she should reconsider.

Concierge care is as much about preventing problems as reacting to problems when they arise, says Roberta Greenspan, the Chicago-based president of Specialdocs Consultants, which helps doctors transition into concierge practices.

Greenspan says most concierge patients are in their mid-50s and prices for concierge care vary regionally: In New York or Boston, she says, concierge doctors can charge between $1,800 and $2,500 annually on average. In Chicago, it’s between $1,600 and $2,200. Outside major cities, she says concierge doctors can charge $1,800 maximum before pricing themselves out of the market.

The cost is worth it, she says, even if a patient doesn’t frequently visit a doctor.

“It’s not the patient’s job to say two doctor visits per year is enough,” she says. “Many times the patient may think that they don’t need care. But discomfort or symptoms may indicate that an illness or problem is looming.”

That last concern, she says, attracts many people to concierge services.

Consider Janice Picker, who owns a financial planning service in suburban Chicago. She’s married, with six children. She pays for her housekeeper’s healthcare, travels often and says her concierge doctor helps manage her family’s hectic schedule. The cost is $1,000 per year, per person. He responds quickly to problems and also visits her home quarterly to conduct preventative tests on her family.

“There’s a seamless regimen now to my healthcare,” she says. “Quarterly, we get a comparative analysis of what’s improving and not improving in our health. [Our doctor] makes things easy. He’s more like a partner than a doctor.”

That’s necessary for some. For others it’s not.

“A lot of patients aren’t looking for hand holding,” says Dr. Tom X. Lee, who founded One Medical Group in San Francisco to offer lower-priced concierge services. “Most people look for a trusted relationship, but that doesn’t need to be in person all the time.”

And a reliance on frequent testing gives some doctors pause.

In a March 2010 essay in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, Michael Stillman, a Boston-based, non-concierge doctor, questioned the motives of concierge doctors.

Concierge medicine is “a product to be sold, not unlike an expensive car or a high-end kitchen appliance,” he says. “It is simply a way for physicians to have a much more reasonable lifestyle and for patients to feel (whether or not this is true) that they are getting the very best care.”

One of Stillman’s patients, a 55-year-old named Bill who asked to remain anonymous, joined a $5,000-a-year concierge practice in Boston, because the location was convenient to him. He lasted six months, and then decided to leave because he felt that, other than usually not having a very long wait, he was “not getting all that much more” than he had from other primary care physicians.

That said, both Stillman and Bill agree it’s most important to find a doctor you feel comfortable with – whether that doctor has a concierge or more conventional practice.

Many concierge practitioners agree.

“When people come to me for concierge care I tell them to interview a lot of people,” says Dr. John Levinson, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who founded AllCare, a concierge practice in Boston. “Your time is valuable. You should look for a doctor who makes your life easy while he or she keeps you healthy rather than the other way around.”


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

I believe if more people are exposed to the cost value of concierge medical care, it will make big difference in what they spend.

I recently read a story in The New York Times that supports this belief. The paper reports that the state of Indiana has a high-deductible plan and another that’s a traditional HMO. People in the high-deductible plan spend thousands less than those in the HMO.

“The average expense in 2009 for patients on one of these [high-deductible] plans was $6,393,” the paper writes, “compared with $8,570 for patients enrolled in a more traditional health maintenance organization plan.”

It’s also a little known fact that nearly 60% of concierge medical programs across the U.S. cost an individual less than $135 per month. (Source:, December 2010).

Some programs cost as little as $10 per month for children. A practice in Wichita, KS offers flat monthly fees ranging from $10 per month for kids and $50 ,$75 or even $100 per month for adults based upon age. Members of that concierge medical practice receive unlimited access to the doctor at their home, work or the doctor’s office along with unlimited “technology visits” like cell phone, web cam, email and texting. Furthermore, many concierge physicians offer access to wholesale pricing on prescriptions, lab tests, imaging services and medical supplies for pennies on the dollar.

I recently submitted data stating that: ‘Utilizing a blended rate based upon national averages for current fees charged for concierge medical care, an estimated 9,285,714,286 people could be provided concierge medical care with the 13 trillion dollar debt. Carrying this out 928,571,429 people could be provided this care for 10 years. These figures are based upon information obtained through average pricing surveys conducted from 2009-2010 by The Concierge Medicine Research Collective.’

Here’s the upshot: When you combine high-deductible health plan policies with a concierge medical program, you empower people and families to make better decisions about their health care, they in turn receive more comprehensive medical care and then the savings happen and stronger relationships occur between the physician and their patients. One California concierge physician recently made the statement that truly encompasses this fact when she says her patients can say ‘I no longer have a doctor who needs to look at my chart to know my name.’

For more information about this subject, I would suggest people read

Posted by ConciergeMD | Report as abusive

[…] may indicate that an illness or problem is looming.” To read the entire article, please link to 011/07/18/is-a-concierge-doctor-worth-th e-cost/. This entry was posted in Media. Bookmark the permalink. ← A Change Journey in Primary […]

Posted by Is a concierge doctor worth the cost? | Special Docs News | Report as abusive

[…] like victims than patients, some-more and some-more people who can means it have incited to “concierge medicine“; a retainer- or fee-based complement that gives doctors a approach financial inducement to […]

Posted by Bad service in health care — is there no cure? | Healt Information Updates | Report as abusive

[…] more like victims than patients, more and more people who can afford it have turned to “concierge medicine“; a retainer- or fee-based system that gives doctors a direct financial incentive to provide […]

Posted by Bad service in health care — is there no cure? – Media Hunters | Media Hunters | Report as abusive

My primary care doctor “offered” the Concierge ripoff to me almost 2 years ago. He wanted $6,000. I was shocked and insulted with all my insurance and the length of time I had been a patient of his. I refused it and I was allowed to stay like some poor waif, while the blackmail money rolled in for him. I think it is disgraceful for doctors, who in general make damn good money, to say “you gotta bribe me” now. They blame Medicare and all insurance coverage for their meager six figure incomes. It is just a legal license to gouge — because the CAN and are greedy and only care about their personal wealth. I think that it is disgusting and it’s no different than having to slip $100 into the palm of the head waiter to avoid being kept waiting hours for a table at a restaurant. Bribery and GREED. And many already have 2000 to 3000 patients! They forgot the OATH they took when they became a doctor.

Posted by Ironheart | Report as abusive

[…] of Specialdocs Consultants, which helps doctors transition into concierge practices.”  (Reuters Money article)  Cenegenics was one of the first practices to offer concierge medicine. They help to manage the […]

Posted by FREE MARKET HEALTH CARE | Long Investment Advisory | Report as abusive