Part two of our recap of the 2023 Concierge Medicine Forum in Atlanta.
At this year’s Concierge Medicine Forum, Specialdocs-affiliated physicians shared their passion and experience practicing in this model. For all interested in learning more, we are pleased to bring you highlights from their presentations, with important insights on building and growing a concierge practice, and a unique path to conversion.
Creating a community of wellness
Dr. Uday Jani, a Delaware-based integrative and internal medicine physician twice recognized as one of the country’s leading concierge medicine doctors, described how he uses video messages to continually reach out and encourage patients in their pursuit of wellness.
“True health is about more than mind, body and spirit,” he said, “it’s about forming a community around you.”
He shared a lively compilation of videos and emails created to educate and engage Shore View Personalized Medical Care patients. Initially sparked by the pandemic, Dr. Jani’s videos are now a popular monthly feature with topics that span the gamut, including: updates on vaccines and seasonal health issues; information about his community presentations on gut microbiome health, nutritional supplements, anti-aging treatments, and more; details on his personal bout with Covid-19, complete with a healing turmeric beverage family recipe; and invitations to join other patients at everything from a local 5K, Walk with a Doc, and Farmer’s Market opening to a fundraising event, beach cleanup or food drive.
“Taking it out of the office and into the community makes it fun,” he told the group, “and changes the conversation so it’s not always just about keeping your blood pressure down or taking your daily statin. For example, at the Farmer’s Market, I visit all the vendors and then feature their goods at my table…organic vegetables, locally made honey, medicinal mushrooms. It’s a great way to promote local business and also teach people about healthy eating.”
At a CMF panel discussion, Dr. Jani provided a candid assessment of the rewards and challenges of being a concierge physician. “At some point, you have to draw the line and focus on what you do best and know that you can’t do everything a patient may need. It’s very much a team effort to use all the modalities available today.”
Dr. Jani also talked movingly about a patient who came to him with advanced liver disease and passed away just two weeks after diagnosis. “There was no treatment that would have made a difference, but as a concierge doctor I was able to do things that could not have happened in a traditional practice. I visited the patient at home, kept in constant contact with his wife to help her cope, and reached out to provide guidance and comfort to his family.”
Thoughtfully growing a concierge medicine practice
Dr. Nan Monahan, Buckhead Internal Medicine, Atlanta, and Dr. Shalini Kaneriya, Lifetime Internal Medicine in Herndon, VA, teamed up to provide guidance on expanding a thriving concierge practice with like-minded physician colleagues.
“The best advice I received was to continually reach out to doctors in the community,” disclosed Dr. Monahan. “Some conversations may be more successful than others, but you’ll eventually start receiving calls from physicians interested in practicing concierge medicine with you. In my case, I kept in contact for over 10 years with a doctor I had wanted to join my practice. I’d call her periodically, meet for lunch every once in a while, and when she was finally ready to make the change, it couldn’t have been more perfect. She fully shares my values and goals – we take extraordinarily good care of our patients – and I’ve never been happier in my practice.”
Dr. Kaneriya, who converted to concierge medicine when she was in her early 40s, revealed that many people wrongly advised her that she was too young to make the change. “They said this is what physicians do when they’re 55 or 60, as a road to retirement. But that’s actually an old way of thinking. My practice filled up quickly after launch, and I realized that taking on more patients would necessitate adding physicians to my team.”
The process required time, diligence and the willingness to dig deep to identify the ideal fit, she said. “It was essential to find physicians I could trust, who shared my vision of patient care, and wanted to convert to concierge medicine for the right reasons. It's easy to find people whose motivation is making more money or having plenty of time to golf. But I was looking for doctors who wanted to change to this model because they love taking care of patients, and realized the way they’re practicing wasn’t helping them at all. I’ve been fortunate to find two doctors who think like I do.”
Her advice for others wanting to expand: “Cast a wide net. I posted on LinkedIn, Facebook, and went to every hospital mixer I could find. Know that those most likely to succeed in a concierge medicine model are physicians in practice for about 20 years, well-known among local specialists, with an amazing reputation, yet fast approaching burnout and open to a new solution. Keep meeting and learning from other doctors, and you will ultimately connect with someone who is perfect for your practice.”
Lifestyle Medicine in a concierge practice
Dr. Dorothy Serna, an award-winning internist and nationally recognized speaker, explored how to incorporate health coaching and Lifestyle Medicine in a concierge model, drawing on her experience as founder and owner of Houston-based North Cypress Internal Medicine & Wellness.
“I made the change to concierge medicine to spend more time with patients and guide them through lifestyle changes which can prevent, and even reverse, an enormous amount of chronic disease. I can’t say enough good things about how this model allows me to be preventive and proactive at every point of care. We offer 24/7 communication, see people when they need to be seen, and give them time, with visits of at least 30 minutes, sometimes 60,” she said, “and for an annual wellness exam, we schedule 90 minutes. We check on patients proactively, and don’t wait to get a call from them when they’re already in the ER.”
Dr. Serna emphasized why in-depth discussions are essential to encouraging patients to adopt the pillars of lifestyle medicine which include: a whole-food, plant-predominant diet, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances, and positive social connection.
“Conventional thinking with diabetes, for example, was ‘you’ll always be a diabetic.’ Our goal goes beyond controlling A1c numbers to reversing the entire condition with lifestyle changes.There is now a mountain of literature pointing to the effectiveness of this approach, but we’ve been doing this for a long time with lifestyle medicine,” said Dr. Serna. “People do better when they take responsibility for their own health. My mission, along with my team of wellness coaches, is to help patients figure out how to do that in a way that enables them to have an excellent quality of life for as long as they live.”
Concierge physician tracks a non-traditional path to success
Dr. Elizabeth Walton, Piedmont Internal Medicine, Atlanta, shared her experience offering concierge medicine within a traditional, fee-for-service model.
After 26 years in practice, Dr. Walton acknowledged she was burnt out. “I was exhausted from caring for too many patients with no opportunity to practice preventive medicine or even personally discuss their lab results, from handling numerous, complex insurance issues, and with no time to attend to my personal health.”
Her moment of truth was sparked by a friend’s sage comment: “You won’t fix the healthcare system by working yourself to death.”Dr. Walton said: “I knew I was finally ready to make the change to concierge medicine, without reservations or guilt.”
After considering her options – starting her own practice, joining a physician with anestablished concierge practice, or staying in her fee-for-service physician group – she chose the latter. “I liked my partners and they wanted me to stay, so it was the right decision for me,” she said. “However, I only had one chance to make this work. With that in mind, I partnered with the experienced consultants at Specialdocs versus taking a DIY approach. They helped me through every step of the process, from setting up the concierge model within Piedmont Internal Medicine to handling all communications with patients about the practice change.”
Setting realistic expectations for prospective patients was key to her success, she said. “Patients join my practice not expecting a spa-like experience, but rather to receive excellent healthcare without hassles.”
The difference in her professional and personal life has been profound, she said. “My health has improved by working fewer hours, taking a daily walk at lunch, and having time to pursue new hobbies. As important, my love of medicine has been restored. A patient panel of 500 instead of 3,000 allows me to know and care for each individual in a truly holistic and preventive way.”
Her only regret? “I wish I would have done it sooner.”
Additionally, Dr. Denise Armellini, a top-rated physician and founder of the Endocrine Center in Northern Virginia, provided a detailed look for clinicians attending CMF at the explosion of GLP-1 drugs for diabetes and weight management. She noted the drugs’ benefits in also reducing the risk for cardiovascular and kidney disease, as well as their pitfalls, including tolerability, high cost, lack of insurance coverage and need for long-term use. “As a concierge endocrinologist, I'm fortunate to have the time required to fully educate patients on the benefits and drawbacks of these new drugs and carefully monitor their progress,” she said. Dr. Armellini also posited that the frequently reported effect of suppressing cravings may lead to future use of GLP-1 drugs in treating addictions to food, smoking or alcohol.
About the authors: Terry Bauer is the CEO of Specialdocs, and Mindy Kolof is the public relations strategist for Specialdocs. Since 2002 Specialdocs has worked to transform physicians’ professional lives with a change to its industry-leading, sustainable concierge medicine model. The company provides all the essentials and support for a successful concierge medicine practice throughout the conversion process and well beyond. Specialdocs’ approach focuses on autonomy and professional satisfaction for physicians and as a result, highly personalized care and attention for their patients.