By: Jenny Walters
Most people have experienced “assembly line patient care.” The kind of patient care where you wait in an overcrowded office with 20-30 other patients; where you are seen an hour or later after your scheduled appointment by, a physician, but usually a physician assistant for all of a 5 minute visit; where you are lucky if the physician takes a minute, of that 5 minute appointment, to look up from his/her notes to make eye contact with you. If you haven’t experienced this type of patient care, consider yourself lucky….very lucky.
In an age of insurance company driven patient care, patients finds themselves in the “assembly line” situation more often than not. In fact, at times it may feel almost impossible to find a physician’s office that does not function on these premises. A recent article in Time magazine, written by Jeninne Lee-St. John, entitled Giving Patient the VIP Treatment, focused on the new emergence of VIP treatment physician practices. According to Lee-St.John, many patients are choosing to pay immense out-of-pocket premiums to obtain more personalized attention.
In the more than 1,000 “concierge, or boutique, practices” that are open today, physicians are limiting the number of patients they see so they can devote more time to each or them.1 Concierge practices accept insurance for routine tests and treatment, but charge patients additional fees for extras like: no waiting, longer office visits, and round-the-clock availability via e-mail or cell phone.1
Many concierge practices are primary care offices. However, OB/GYN physicians are now beginning to enter the new area of concierge practices. Elite Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Ft. Lauderdale is one such practice. Elite charges patients an additional $15,000 on top of insurance, “for VIP prenatal care that includes add-ons like a fetal ultrasound photo at every visit, private birthing classes, one massage per trimester, optional home doctor visits, physicians home and cell numbers, e-mail addresses, and the guarantee that your physician will be at the hospital for your full active labor and delivery.”1 Elite is able to make the guarantee that each physician will be available for each of their patients birth by accepting obstetric patients by due date, and accepting no more than four woman due per month.
Critics argue concierge practices are for the wealthy; and high quality healthcare should be available to all patients, not just those who can afford it. However, many of the concierge physicians report: “Most of our patients are normal people who just care a lot about their health.”1 Dr. Lanalee Araba Sam, a physician from Elite OB/GYN stated: “Women seem to spend more time picking a hairdresser than picking who’s going to take care of them for nine months and be responsible for the baby.” For woman who are deeply interested in their health, but who cannot afford Elite’s fees, Dr. Sam will sometimes offer her services at a discounted rate or for free.1
As we draw closer upon the next presidential election, we are overwhelmed with claims and promises of better health care and health care or all. It is impossible to say what changes we will really see with our new president. However, one thing is clear, the current health care system must change in order to better accommodate patients. Patients shouldn’t be forced to pay immense out-of-pocket fees to obtain high quality patient care; and patients shouldn’t feel like a number in assembly line. Instead, high quality patient care should be available to all. The question is ….How are we going to make that happen?
 Lee-St. John L. Giving patients the VIP treatment. Time. May 2008. Available at: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1779338,00.html. Accessed on June 1, 2008.