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Pivot to Concierge: Will personalized membership practices redefine medicine in 2022?


Will 2022 be the year concierge medicine shifts from niche solution to mainstream model?

There’s no minimizing the tumultuous impact of the last two years on every patient, every part of the healthcare system, and on all physicians. Working harder than ever but feeling threatened by shrinking revenues, an ongoing surge of practice closures, and dwindling options for remaining independent, physicians were experiencing burnout at alarming new levels.

A survey published in this magazine just a few months ago painted a vivid picture of a system in crisis, with four out of five physicians saying they felt burnt out. Even more concerning was that 79% of physicians say their burnout began before the pandemic, according to a NIHCM report.

Which is why I believe that 2022 will be a year when concierge medicine shifts from niche solution for a few to a mainstream model for many.

The undercurrents have been bubbling up to the surface throughout the pandemic. At Specialdocs, we were deeply gratified to report double digit increases in both 2020 and 2021 in the number of physicians converting to our concierge medicine model. The resilience of the membership medicine practice has been tested and proven in the most challenging of times. Not one of our physician-clients ever considered having to close their doors due to insufficient operating funds or loss of patients. In fact, they thrived, as an ever more diverse demographic of people actively sought preventive, deeply personalized and readily available care from a physician. The number of concierge medicine patients served in our network swelled significantly in both 2020 and 2021, even during a time of financial uncertainty in the U.S. Also noteworthy is the gradual but consistent lowering of members’ average age, a sign of broadening appeal among younger generations realizing the immeasurable value of a long-term relationship with their physician.

What does this mean for 2022? As I write this in late December, we’re again being buffeted by the emergence of another COVID-19 variant. It’s a potent reminder that the ultimate trajectory of this virus is still unknown, and we simply don’t know when we can return to business as usual. While the continued rise of concierge medicine has already sparked a great deal of well-intentioned handwringing about exacerbating the shortage of primary care physicians, the facts are somewhat different.

  • Physicians struggling in a fee-for-service, volume based practice have found a path to sustainability. A Specialdocs rheumatologist in Michigan said: “Concierge medicine enabled me to do more than simply keep the doors open - it restored my practice, rejuvenated my staff and allowed me to care for patients exceptionally well.”
  • Many who intended to close or retire early reversed their plans. Consider this from the head of a now thriving prominent Boston cardiology group: “Making the change to concierge medicine saved our entire organization, including many who had worked with us for their entire careers.”
  • Work-life balance was realized. Parents reclaimed the sweetest parts of raising their children – as a Massachusetts Specialdocs physician said: “I am finally seeing my kids when they’re awake.”The spouse of a Specialdocs physician confided: “Concierge medicine has healed our marriage and completely revitalized our family dynamic.”
  • Virtually every concierge physician regained, or even better, never lost, their overriding passion for medicine. A California OB-GYN who joined our network in 2020 marveled: “Every day I’m fulfilling my mission to completely change the way we care for women’s health.”

When I first learned about concierge medicine in 1999, it appeared to be a stunning vision of health care’s future. Sparked by the cataclysmic events begun 20 months ago, in 2022, I believe the future has arrived.

Terry Bauer is CEO of Specialdocs, a concierge medicine pioneer that since 2002 has transformed physicians’ professional lives, empowering them to deliver personalized patient care.

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