Arizona Foothills Magazine, September 2006
Renowned hospitals and research facilities such as Johns Hopkins Medicine and The Cleveland Clinic have long offered V.I.P. or concierge services (booking appointments, scheduling travel, etc.) for patients willing to pay for more personalized treatment.
However, there’s a new breed of medicine- retainer medicine, also referred to as boutique medicine, executive health programs or concierge care- that offers something completely different, even controversial. It allows a patient to prepay a physician to attend to their preventative care and medical conditions. It also serves as a buffer between the patient and the oft-intimidating medical world-the idea being that the patient has access to more personalized, more responsive health care in exchange for a set annual fee. And now that type of medicine is being offered by medical practices and private corporations nationwide.
So what’s available to Valley dwellers? Board-certified family physician Dr. Helene Wechsler founded Scottsdale Private Physicians in North Scottsdale more than two years ago. Her retainer-style practice accepts only a limited number of patients- around 250 – who pay an annual fee in exchange for extraordinary access and convenience. “I answer their calls personally,” Dr. Wechsler says. “They have my cellphone number for after-hours emergencies, and I’m available for house calls.”
Alternately, private medical advocacy companies such as PinnacleCare International and MDVIP are neither medical insurers nor providers, but are comparable to say, outsurcing your tax preparation to a professional accountant. PinnacleCare is “concierge medicine, writ large,” says spokesperson Carolyn O’Keefe, explaining that the company’s clients are each assigned a personal medical adviser who vets doctors, researches and recommends treatment options, books appointments, handles paperwork, instantly updates medical records and so on.
But, some doctors question the viability (and the ethicality) of retainer and concierge-style medicine. “If you want to pay extra to ensure that you have access to your general practitioner 24 hours a day, fine,” says Dr. Irwin Shapiro, a local orthopedic surgeon with 32 years’ experience. “But what happens when they need to refer you to a specialist? That specialist isn’t going to be able to see you any faster, and it would be unethical if they did.”
“We’re not pushing anyone out of line,” says John Hutchins, managing director of PinnacleCare. “We simply contact our network of specialists, and if they can take you on, they will. No money exchanges hands; we don’t pay them, and they don’t pay us.”