Just wanted to get some opinions on "Concierge Docs":
For well-to-do, health care has become a catered affair
- If David Heerensperger isn't feeling well, he calls Dr. Howard Maron on the physician's personal cell phone, whether it's 3 a.m. on a weekday or noon on a weekend.
And Maron will happily make a house call to the 65-year-old executive or send a nurse to his patient's office for tests. And he'll guarantee same-day results.
The catch? Maron and his partner, Dr. I. Scott Hall, charge patients up to $20,000 a year in cash for primary care.
Maron compares his Seattle practice to private golf courses or expensive restaurants.
It's a growing trend. Five years after opening his practice MD2 (pronounced MD-squared) in Seattle, Maron is planning to open as many as 100 franchises across the country.
Patients say they are spared the frustration of long waits for appointments, rushed, impersonal treatment and delayed lab results.
With traditional health care, Heerensperger says, "the prices are going up so much and the service is so bad, that this is just great."
"I'm fortunate to be able to pay for it," said Heerensperger, who runs a chain of lighting stores.
Maron said he got the idea while traveling as the team doctor for the Seattle SuperSonics. He noticed the athletes got VIP care while the rich team owners struggled with the frustrations of traditional health care.
"I thought, Isn't it ironic that a player can get a response like that, while the wealthy and the powerful have to sit in ER waiting rooms as if they are a nobody - or an everybody?' " Maron says.
Other medical professionals sympathize with the frustrations of the current health-care system. But they question whether most physicians would be comfortable practicing "concierge care."
"I don't think they're unethical, but I don't think they take into account the overall needs of the community," said Frank Riddick, a New Orleans physician and chairman of the American Medical Association's council on ethical and judicial affairs.
Critics, including patients dropped by doctors who switched to the new system, complain that such services hurt those who can't afford it. In Florida, some politicians have called for an end to such practices.
Duane Dobrowits, the CEO of MD2, is a former patient of Maron's who couldn't afford to switch to the $20,000-a-year model. He asks of critics, "Are you angry because doctors are doing this or are you angry because you can't have this?"
Maron says he's never run a charitable practice.
"None of these doctors is Mother Theresa," he said. "We're not saints. We're just practicing medicine."