Scottsdale primary care doctor converts practice to concierge care

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The rising costs and red tape involved in health care coverage have some Valley doctors taking matters into their own hands. Frustrated with the pressures of balancing great care with their bottom line, some primary care physicians are now pursuing a more exclusive path, practicing concierge care.

Dr. Jeffrey Baird, of East Scottsdale Medical Care, has been an independent family practitioner for 23 years. Recently, he says his practice has been threatened by decreasing reimbursements from government programs like Medicare as well as the red tape and restrictions of private insurance companies.

"When I first started, I'd see 15 to 17 patients a day and now it is well into the 20s -- just to try to break even on revenue," Baird said.

It's part of the reason why he is converting to concierge medicine. His 3,200 patients received a notice in the mail last month explaining membership will be extended to the first 400 who sign up and pay the annual fee of $2,000. This has some patients thinking twice.

"I think the people who have the means will have really good health care," said Allie Marino, who is battling a mysterious illness similar to valley fever. She considers continuity of care to be critical and doesn't want to leave Baird. She's just trying to figure out if she can afford to stay.

"I go, 'Can I do this to my family? We've already spent a fortune,'" Marino said. "Then I go, 'Yeah I think I have to.'"

The membership covers 10 office visits and 10 hospital visits along with routine tests and vaccinations.  Patients will also have access to a nurse practitioner and a dietitian. However, it does not replace the health insurance you would need to cover specialists and emergencies.

"It's not an arrangement that would work for too many right now because with the cost of care and cost of insurance it's hard to believe, unless you are independently wealthy, that you could afford to do this on a grand scale," said Greg Vigdor, president of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association. 

Still, he says it is an approach that many more primary care physicians find appealing. 

"This could be an innovation, a pathway to the future, or just another side road that goes nowhere," he said.

Baird's boutique practice has already attracted 70 members and as of July 1, he will opt out of all insurance contracts.

"I think for primary care it's the wave of the future," Baird said.