Concierge medicine: A blessing or a curse?

It is called boutique or concierge medicine. The concept merges the familiar bedside manor of yesteryear with the modern technology of today.

"You have pretty much total access to him 24-7; if you need something you can just call him," said Tracey Moser, a patient at Dr. Tim Jones's boutique practice in Charleston, South Carolina.

Moser has been coming to Dr. Tim Jones for more than a decade. In 2009 she stuck with him as he made the transition from a traditional practice to MDVIP, a company that encompasses a nationwide network of boutique-style doctors.

"It's very much personalized the services," said Moser. "You can see who you want, when you want."

MDVIP requires doctors to pare down their practices to no more than 600 patients. When Jones began the program, he left a practice that served 3,000 patients to begin his own, which he capped at 425 patients.

Advocates of boutique style medicine say it takes a proactive instead of reactive approach to patient health. Each year, participants get an extensive physical coupled with advanced screenings.

Jones, a physician of 17 years, said this increased attention to care, few would normally see, has saved lives.

"I had a patient that came in for their routine annual exam and we found that they had a mass on their kidney," said Jones. "It turns out that it was cancer, and if we had not detected it during that examination that patient probably would not have survived another two years."

Patients also get a yearly customized wellness plan to keep their health on track.

Like any good coach, their boutique-style doctor routinely checks in to make sure they are working at it.

But going to a boutique style physician comes at a price.

At Jones's office, each patient coughs up  $1,500 a year out of pocket, in addition to health insurance co-pays.

"It's a huge investment," said Moser. "But it's just a personal decision. We figured out how to do it."

Other patients may not be so fortunate. Virginia Hines said she lives on a fixed income.

Recently, her doctor of more than a decade changed his practice to boutique style, leaving Hines to find a new physician.

"I just couldn't afford it," said Hines. "It would cut into my budget, my grocery bill, it would cut into everything. With gas prices and the economy, it's not possible for me to stay with him."

Hines said she feels abandoned and sees this as a sign of things to come.

"Especially for the elderly, you know, to just take their doctor away all of the sudden is traumatic to them," said Hines. "But it makes me wonder what kind of choices do we really have? You know, as we get older and we all end up on fixed income of some kind."

Jones's perspective is much different.

"I'm seeing patients that I'm keeping out of the hospital. I'm seeing patients that are maintaining their wellness much longer into later years," Jones said."I'm seeing older patients that are able to maintain their functional status through early intervention."

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