Why are Valley docs turning to concierge medicine?

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Are you tired of waiting to get an appointment at the doctor's office? Are you tired of waiting when you get there? Some Valley family physicians are trying to change that by going into concierge medicine.
“Dr. Kim Johnson was the only person that we saw for years and as the practice grew, we would go without seeing him,” Sara Schramm said.

This became unacceptable Schramm and patients like her.

“In recent years, we would come in and it was not uncommon to have 10 other people in the waiting room,” Schramm said.

To keep his Valley practice afloat financially, Johnson's patient load increased to 5,000 and a single office visit decreased from 30 minutes to 12.
“It makes me leave each day at work thinking I've done a poor job and that's just difficult to live with,” Johnson said.

The frustration and long hours led to a difficult decision. Johnson will limit his concierge practice to 300 patients. The annual fee for the program will be $1,500 per person and $2,750 for families.
“I will guarantee them same-day appointments, outside of vacations, of course,” Johnson said. “I will be their advocate in the health-care system. So, if they need a referral to a specialist or they need testing done, I will personally arrange that.”

Schramm said the decision to pay extra for quality medical care was easy for her family of four. 

“We can go back to that older practice of really seeing him,” Schramm explained.

But not everyone can afford it. Bob Campbell, who has been Johnson's patient for years, said he weighed his health needs against pressure to save every penny he can for retirement.

“As much as I hate to have to go out and find another primary-care physician, it was economic,” Campbell said.

Johnson said the stress of family medicine is driving more current physicians into a concierge model and more medical school students into specialty practices that pay.

“Family physicians are clearly at the bottom of the food chain with respect to how we're reimbursed,“ Johnson said. “ Therefore we have to generate a large number of office visits to generate income.”

Schramm and Campbell agree the current health-care system is broken.

“I don't think anyone really knows what's going on in congress right now,” Campbell said.

“The value of having a committed and engaged partner helping you keep your family healthy completely outweighs the cost for us,” Schramm said.

Johnson said one sign of hope is that large health-care corporations are seeing the need for family doctors and opening large practices that help reduce costs by streamlining overhead.
For more information on Johnson’s concierge program, email dockj@biltmorefamily.com.