Boutique Medicine

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 6th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Fed up with long waits at the doctor’s office? Sick of waiting on the doctor to return a call? A solution is in the making in a new model of service called boutique medicine.

If you stop to shop in a boutique, you see fashionable, specialty items… at a higher price. So it is with boutique medicine, sometimes called concierge care. The patient pays an annual fee to the doctor, and for this retainer receives same-day, no-wait appointments, longer examination times and twenty-four-hour access to the doctor’s cell phone or pager.

In the early 1990s, a Seattle doctor, frustrated with high patient numbers and low insurance reimbursements, set up a small practice where patients paid an annual fee for special services. This allowed him to reduce his caseload and spend more time with each person.

The idea has become a genuine boom, especially in Florida, Seattle, California and some metropolitan areas.

But not everyone is sold on this “white-gloved service.” Some critics complain it’s unfair to lower-income patients who can’t afford the fee… which can range from five-hundred to twenty-thousand dollars, and doesn’t include insurance payments. Others view boutique medicine as an example of greedy doctors catering to the highest bidder and complain it may, at least in spirit, violate federal Medicare law.

Advocates see the model as a savior of Medicare… and an exciting way to return to old-fashioned medicine with a new name.

So ask yourself… what price would you pay for your doctor’s pager number?