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How consumers are hacking healthcare to their advantage—and 4 reasons why it’s working

How consumers are hacking healthcare to their advantage—and 4 reasons why it’s working

By Anna Essmann, Barkley Health Care Strategist

Concierge Medicine. On-Demand Care. Medical Membership or Subscription Model. Direct Primary Care. It goes by many names but the concept is the same—and patients are taking notice.

Direct Primary Care, or DPC, is a steadily growing sector of medicine with six times the number of practices open today compared to five years ago. Check your local area, and you’ll likely find a few DPC clinics nearby. Call them and you might find out they are approaching full membership.  

DPC delivers what patients and doctors have been missing from Health Care for years: personal, doctor/patient relationships, modern and convenient service, and transparent, hassle-free billing. This relatively new, care delivery model aims to exceed modern consumer expectations, which traditional health care has seemingly become too bureaucratic to address.

There are a few ways a DPC membership works. The first is a flat monthly membership fee that covers all included primary care services during that billing period—like Netflix. The second approach collects both a membership fee and additional charges for services rendered—like Amazon Prime.

And just like that, they’ve hacked healthcare to their advantage. They feel empowered because they’ve discovered the ultimate compromise—the everyday care they desire, the modern experience they deserve, and the lower costs they need. With DPC, they gain a consistent place to access affordable care for their whole family, and a person who’s always available. Plus, they can still have peace of mind from the backup coverage and protection provided by their HDHP/HSA plan.

As a member of the Barkley research and strategy team specializing in health care, I’ve talked with more 100 individuals and employers in the last six months about their opinions on healthcare, the unique challenges they face in an Affordable Care Act-affected reality, and their hope for the future of health care so it remains a tenable and valuable resource. Here are four reasons why DPC is such an attractive alternative to traditional health care.

When it comes to health care access, costs, and peace of mind, people feel distraught. It’s a benefit employers must offer to stay competitive and retain talent, and employees are thankful to have. And both groups believe it’s necessary, but admit it doesn’t feel as beneficial as it once was. People perceive that costs just go up as they take on more responsibility (financially, logistically, and emotionally). Their care seems disconnected and their family’s relationships with medical professionals are not what they once were. Their confidence in health care, and their satisfaction with the value of their insurance, are waning.

When you ask patients if they’ve considered alternative solutions to the traditional health care experience—whether it’s home remedies, wellness activities, new types of health insurance or care delivery—some have, and those who’ve seen success encourage everyone they know to look into their discovery. These enthusiastic early adopters easily intrigue fast followers. I’ve seen it happen in every focus group I’ve moderated. And when DPC comes up, it comes across like a rational and viable path to meeting personal and financial goals for healthcare, while skirting the traditional system.  

Engaged, confident and healthy employees make happy and productive employees—that’s just good business, which is why DPC makes sense as consideration. It engages employees in regular and preventive care to help keep them healthy. That way, they’re less likely to develop or exacerbate expensive health conditions. Employees get great care when they need it and their costs are known and affordable. And employers benefit from a population with improving health, which might bend the cost curve for health care over time.


Patients get it. Employers might soon, too. What about primary care physicians?

General practitioners may be ready to jump on board with the DPC model, too. Those who have made the shift back to independent family practice via DPC report feeling less burned out and more intrinsically satisfied with the care they’re able to provide. In theory, they can focus on the reasons they went into health care: helping people, getting to know them, and solving problems, together, without the health care hassles like negotiating with insurance, meeting quotas that restrict time per patient, and heavy administrative oversight. Some say it’s their chance to do meaningful work, find balance, and grow their business, which felt like incompatible pursuits in current healthcare settings.

Direct Primary Care may be a win-win, all around: it represents a first, relatively safe step on the path to direct-to-consumer medicine, if consumers are well informed when making care and insurance decisions. But as the world of health care opens up to more consumer choice, there are very real ethical and financial issues that should concern industry leaders and employers alike—issues we'll address in part two of this series, next month.

Barkley US

May 23, 2019

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