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Why changing to concierge medicine during COVID-19 was the best decision I ever made

Medical Economics JournalJune 2020 Edition
Volume 97
Issue 10

Far from being risky or ill-timed, my transition to concierge medicine has benefited both me and my patients in ways that continue to beautifully unfold.

Zev Cohen, MD

For most of us, our personal timelines may forever be demarcated as pre- and post-coronavirus eras.  My professional journey will likewise be defined as before and after my change to a concierge medicine practice. In what can be viewed as a seemingly insurmountable challenge wrapped in an extraordinary opportunity, both of these events occurred simultaneously for me last March. Three months later, I can say with no reservations whatsoever, that it was the best decision possible.

The need to provide patients with deeply personalized care and attention during an unprecedented health crisis could not have been more urgent - or more impossible to deliver - in a traditional practice. Far from being risky or ill-timed, my transition to concierge medicine has benefited both me and my patients in ways that continue to beautifully unfold. Had I not begun my personalized practice then, I would have been totally unprepared to face the challenges of an empty waiting room and infrequent office visits. My patients would not have received the unlimited time and attention I was profoundly thankful to provide.

I’m grateful to share this personal and professional miracle with you at a time when so few are occurring in healthcare. As importantly, I encourage physicians who may still be reeling from the pandemic’s destructive effects to consider the concierge model as a way to thrive sustainably and practice some of the best medicine of your career. 

Ten months ago…
My journey to personalized care began last summer, when a chance conversation with a concierge medicine executive spurred me to consider how long I could continue to practice at the frantic pace required to remain independent. Because I accommodated walk-ins as well as scheduled appointments, it was not unusual for me to see up to 40 patients each day. Lunchtime consisted of renewing medications, reviewing labs and x-ray results and answering patient calls, a process that was repeated nightly after I closed the office at 7 p.m. The next day, the cycle repeated itself. Anyone in private practice has felt the same frustration I did at having no time for anything but the most cursory contact with patients. Well before COVID-19, the current system had irretrievably broken down, and I was determined to find another, better way.

Among several, mostly unpalatable options, including employment by a hospital, grinding it out until retirement or leaving the profession altogether, only the change to a concierge or membership medical practice offered a viable solution. The attributes of concierge medicine resonated with me on a number of levels, primarily as one of the only models to recognize and reward the importance of the physician-patient relationship. I signed on with Specialdocs Consultants, a company known for its long history of success and individualized approach to concierge practice transitions.

Power of the personalized touch
On March 9th, my new concierge practice was launched. One week later, a state of emergency was declared in Rockland County, with strict social distancing guidelines put in place to help tamp down an alarming surge of local COVID-19 cases. As was true nationwide, we were all bombarded by a ceaseless stream of disturbing news and urgent alerts. The virus was so prevalent in our area that many of my patients felt they’d been exposed and understandably had numerous questions about their risk, how to isolate, and what steps to take to remain safe.

The impact of changing to a concierge model is enormous. With the much smaller number of patients in my care, I am able to be available at any time, by phone and by text, to quickly respond and thoroughly reassure all who reach out to me. For patients who are alone, or coping with chronic conditions, oftentimes both, it is tremendously comforting to know they can connect easily and frequently with me. The outreach goes both ways, as I check in often with my most vulnerable patients to see how they are faring, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. When they share their anxiety about a critically ill relative, I now have the time to help them navigate difficult decisions and in some cases, even recommend lifesaving care.

I can also extend my use of telemedicine with longer virtual visits to manage patients with chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and anxiety. Because my income is now sustained through membership payments, there is no need for concern about potentially lower reimbursement rates for telemedicine or a sharp decline in office visits. Instead I can focus on spending as much time as needed on every aspect of my patients’ care and well-being. 

Going forward, I believe the benefits of my smaller, personalized practice will take on even greater meaning in a post-COVID-19 world. I’ll be able to schedule patient appointments far enough apart that the need to sit in a waiting room with other sick people will be eliminated. Telemedicine can continue to be offered as a convenience for those who want to be seen from the comfort and safety of their homes. And most importantly, I can nurture the personal, one-to-one relationship patients seek with their doctors, now more than ever before. I’ll forever cherish the connections formed with patients whom I care for as members of my own family.

Finally, my advice to other doctors considering making the change is don’t do it yourself. Candidly, there were times that I worried about how the unprecedented crisis of COVID-19 might affect the launch and ongoing growth of my new practice. For me, the Specialdocs team has proven to be ideal partners, guiding and advising me throughout the evolving situation, with a strong and clear commitment to my long-term success. No one can predict the twists and turns ahead as we slowly return to a new normal, so make sure the company you choose shares your values, respects your philosophy of care, and will keep working hard for you long after your initial transition. I wish you much success with your journey.

Zev Cohen, M.D., a primary care physician specializing in Internal Medicine, has been caring for patients in the New York area for more than three decades. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Dr. Cohen attended Brooklyn College, received his medical degree from Ross University School of Medicine and completed his internship and residency at Chicago Medical School. He has headed up emergency rooms at Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Illinois and Good Samaritan Hospital in NY. In 1991, Dr. Cohen created Healthcheck Immediate Medical Care in New City and moved the practice to Nanuet in 2003. He has served as a physician for the New City Volunteer Ambulance Corp and been designated a civil surgeon by US Homeland Security. In March 2020, Dr. Cohen established Healthcheck as a concierge medical practice, offering personalized care and a proactive approach to wellness.

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