Pushing Patients Past the Specialist Waitlist

Jack Murtha
JANUARY 11, 2018
concierge key health,robert grant,online doctor,hca news
Images courtesy of CONCIERGE KEY Health.

Robert Grant, MBA, needed to see a urologist, and he needed to see one soon. The healthcare industry veteran did not want to take any chances on an issue that could have been cancer. But when he tried to book an appointment, he instead saw a 12-week waitlist.

He called his physician and asked for help in jumping the line, an effort that shaved off a single week. Earlier, Grant’s primary care doctor had shifted toward concierge medicine, a system that gave his patients greater and quicker access in exchange for an annual retainer, which Grant said totaled about $3000. Did a similar program, he asked his doctor, exist for specialists? The answer: No.

So, Grant built one.

CONCIERGE KEY Health is exiting beta and launching this month in New York City; Phoenix, Arizona; and Orange County, California, with plans for expansion into 8 other major markets shortly afterward. The mobile healthcare app acts as a fast pass, allowing customers who pay a yearly fee to immediately access top-ranking specialist physicians across the country. When patients need to visit a certain specialist, they receive a 10-mintue visitation window, meaning a participating doctor could see 21 patients, rather than 20, over a 2-hour period, Grant told Healthcare Analytics News™.

“We’ve all been through this bureaucratic, impersonal system that has forgotten we are customers. The whole industry right now is upside down,” he said. “What we tried to build here is something that I and other people in my office would value as consumers.”

Experts, government officials, business leaders, and some advocates throughout healthcare are increasingly calling for the industry to treat patients like consumers, at least as far as choice, competition, and data ownership go. The broad idea: Focusing on the consumer over the payer empowers patients, who may then seek care that best suits their needs. CONCIERGE KEY Health riffs off this notion, tailoring its service to a higher-end, jet-setting clientele.

The company’s network of physicians—faculty members, or the top 3% in their specialties, selected by a panel of experts—is slated to grow to as much as 500 by the end of the year. Grant and his team do not aim to build a sprawling list of doctors; they operate under the idea that patients want some choice but not enough to overwhelm or complicate the decision-making process. For the company’s potential customers, that sort of handcrafted network is of great value, Grant said.

Customers may also rate their CONCIERGE KEY Health physicians on a 5-star system, based on non-clinical attributes like timeliness and politeness, but they cannot leave the sort of qualitative reviews that have proved troubling on other digital platforms.

The goal is to put the patient first, the physician second, and insurers and the rest afterward, Grant noted. To him, that model inverts the broad American healthcare system, over which payers are king and “value” tends to refer to their profits. “When you begin with what will benefit to the highest degree the consumer and patient experience, then you’re putting yourself in the shoes of the customer,” he said.

Grant aims to move away from the “perverse incentives” built into healthcare. Doctors in the network, for example, receive passive income from patients who are well, thanks to their retainers. This setup is inspired by payment arrangements in other countries, though app users and their insurers do still pay for visits. Another change: Unlike many health insurance organizations, the app encourages appointments with top-tier physicians, Grant said.

Patients may spend an average of $25,000 a year in premiums and deductibles, but that price might not include the value they desire, he said. That means there is a chance for companies to disrupt how this money flows, he added.

The app itself is meant to foster efficiency, an objective that has come to define many start-ups and efforts in the digital health space. Grant claimed just 7% of medical appointments are booked online now, and that bucks a trend overtaking nearly all industries. “What percentage of flights are done through a travel agent versus online?” he asked. “It’s just more convenient.”

It remains to be seen whether CONCIERGE KEY Health will take off in the manner in which Grant hopes. Its rollout is just beginning. But the mission is one that acknowledges and attempts to quell long-standing gripes from various healthcare stakeholders. “We don’t want the healthcare experience to be a tolerated experience,” he said. “We want it to be nice.”

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