Concierge Medicine - A Leaner Supply Chain for Healthcare Delivery

Our family moved from Illinois to North Carolina a couple of years ago. If you've been through a major move, then you understand how disruptive it is for every facet of your life. Finding a house, getting kids enrolled in school, dealing with the department of motor vehicles, and getting settled in a new job can take months. Selecting a new doctor was on the to-do list, but in the grand scheme it was pretty far down.


When I finally did start looking at doctors, the experience was underwhelming. The few doctors that were recommended by my colleagues were not accepting new patients. The ones that were available through the big hospital systems seemed very impersonal and bureaucratic. What I was really looking for - a doctor who would take the time to get to know me, and remember my name - seemed like it was a relic of the past.


Then I got a letter from a doctor in my neighborhood talking about a new business model that he'd adopted for his practice: Concierge Medicine. Basically, he'd turned his practice into a sort of club - everyone pays a fee to join, and there are a limited number of memberships available. The more I thought about the model, the more intrigued I was, so I scheduled a visit to learn more about it.


When was the last time that you walked into a doctor's office, and they were actually ready and waiting for you? Knew your name? That was my first clue that this was really different.


I barely had time to sit down before the tour started. The office was fully staffed with a nurse, a phlebotomist, a nutritionist, etc. All busy, but not frazzled like the folks I normally see in a doctor's office.


Then came the meeting with the doctor: 30 minutes, one-on-one, sitting at his desk. We talked about his professional experience and his family. I told him about the work that I do, my own family, and a general overview of my health history. By the end of the visit I was sold, and when my wife took the tour the following week we both decided to join.


So what does this have to do with lean supply chains? Everything! The reason this new business model - concierge medicine - actually works is because it allows the doctor to do a better job of balancing supply with demand.


Before digging into specifics, let me start with my definition of a supply chain: "A supply chain is a complex system made up of people, processes, and technologies that is engineered and managed to deliver value to a customer."


In the case of healthcare, the customer is me. And the concierge medicine model allows the people, processes, and technology of healthcare to be aligned in a new way that provides me with more of the things that I truly value.


For example, most facilities build out a fixed capacity (facility, staff, equipment, etc.) and then try to maximize the utilization of every part of it. But this actually produces huge amounts of waste.  (Remember the classic book The Goal?) In some cases, it creates pressure to perform unnecessary procedures and tests because that's how you earn a return on the overhead you are carrying. In other cases, it creates bottlenecks and delays for services that genuinely create value for patients. But by constraining demand, the concierge medicine model effectively engineers in some buffer capacity, which translates into flexibility for patients. The result is that you don't need to wait three weeks to schedule an appointment... there are times available throughout the week that you can slide into, if need be.


Another characteristic of concierge medicine is the use of technology to streamline communications. This begins with emails and text messages for simple communications like confirming appointments or notifications about test results. But rather than the technology creating distance between the doctor and the patient, in the concierge medicine model it actually enhances the relationship. For example, our doctor shares his personal cell phone with patients. Seriously.


Not only is the concierge medicine model more personal, but it may actually end up being a lower cost alternative in the long run. My doctor and his nutritionist are actively tracking my wellness goals - and I'm more committed to improving my routine of exercise, diet and weight loss because I know that they are holding me accountable. That is almost certain to pay off in tangible and intangible ways by making me... healthier.


But here's the best example of the enormous value that we're getting from the concierge medicine model. On a lovely Sunday afternoon last summer, my wife and I took our daughters out for a 5K Bubble Run. It sounded harmless, but there was danger lurking on the course. Somewhere in the wall of yellow bubbles, my wife walked into something hard and broke her nose.


We called our doctor on his cell phone as we were trudging back to the car. After asking several questions about her injury, he asked us to meet him at his office. She got a thorough exam, some honest sympathy from a compassionate professional, and a prescription for painkillers to get her through the next few weeks. Rather than the long wait and the enormous bill that we would have gotten from the hospital, instead we had a small charge for an office visit and were home within the hour.


Healthcare is expensive. But your health may be the most valuable asset that you have. Factoring in the flexibility, responsiveness, and personal touch that come with concierge medicine, you can certainly argue that it is a leaner and more effective supply chain than many of the other options we have available. So if you are looking for a new doctor, and you want a better healthcare experience, check out the concierge medicine providers in your area.


If you happen to be looking for a doctor in Charlotte, NC, then I can't say enough good things about Dr. Matthew Acampora at PartnerMD.

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Copyright by Daniel Stanton.