Shorter wait times, more personal and thorough visits, access to a doctor 24/7, all at a low monthly rate. Sound too good to be true? With direct primary care, a new emerging health care model, it’s not.
Unlike the traditional fee-for-service insurance billing system most doctors operate on, where health care providers work through insurance companies, direct primary care (DPC) works directly between patient and doctor. Also referred to as a “membership” model, DPC patients are charged a per-month premium, typically ranging anywhere from $40 to $80, that includes unlimited office visits, basic labs and tests like EKGs, and certain procedures.
The retainer-based model has gained traction in past years. A 2013 article in Medical Economics highlights surveys that have shown the decline in the number of primary care physicians who operate independently, with one firm citing that 1 in 3 independent providers will soon be looking to adopt models like DPC. High overhead costs and the expense of running a business can leave many doctors needing to overbook patients in order to make ends meet.
That was the case for Alison Snider, M.D., a Board Certified Family Physician with over a decade of family practice experience. She felt like needing to squeeze numerous patients into one day, only to jump through many insurance hoops, put her on a treadmill that wouldn’t let her off. After working for more than a decade in the Kernersville area, Snider turned to DPC, opening up the area’s only such practice outside of the Yadkinville Hospital building.
With her private practice, Snider is able to work directly with patients in a more meaningful manner, building relationships and creating a better continuum of care. While typical primary care doctors may need to have over 2,500 patients, a DPC provider like Snider will have only about 500 patients. Like other DPC physicians, Snider is able conduct home visits or telemedicine visits when necessary. As the AARP points out, DPC practices cut out the insurance middlemen completely, which can cut down on frustration and red tape both for patients and doctors.
The DPC model is supported by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The AAFP says the model can benefit patients by providing substantial savings and a greater degree of access to, and time with, physicians. The health care model works especially well for people facing high deductibles, but retainers don’t cover every service one might need. Snider, the AAFP, and most DPC doctors recommend patients still have a catastrophic insurance plan or high deductible plan to cover emergencies like hospital stays.