July 16, 2008
Doctors Make More House Calls to Meet Patient Demand
By Phil Galewitz, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.
Jul. 14--The house call is back. Just ask Tessie Lucas.Last winter, when Lucas was too busy to go to her doctor's office for a physical, the doctor came to her.
At an auto repair shop Lucas owns with her husband in West Palm Beach, Dr. Lorne Stitsky drew her blood and took her temperature and blood pressure.
"I loved it because I didn't have to take off from work for half a day," Lucas said.
Welcome to the next level of "concierge medical care," which continues to grow here seven years after the concept began with one doctor in Boca Raton.
Today, at least 35 doctors in the region have VIP-style practices to give patients more perks -- for a price.
In February, Stitsky opened a concierge medicine practice in Jupiter where his patients pay a $1,500 annual membership fee for same-day appointments, no wait and yes, house calls.
He has a posh Abacoa office, with a small waiting area that boasts plush couches, a fancy chess set and large plasma television.
But patients don't wait.
Stitsky has only 100 patients and says he plans to have only 200 when his practice is full.
"People who sign up with me are fed up with waiting two hours in the waiting room or not being able to get a hold of their doctor when they are sick," said Stitsky, a general practitioner.
Even patients without health insurance have joined, including Tessie Lucas and her husband, Bruce.
Both are uninsured, as health insurers consider them too high a risk because they have diabetes.
"Even if I did have insurance, I would pay for the convenience of not having to wait to get treated," Bruce said.
Stitsky first tried the concierge medicine concept four years ago with an office near 45th Street in West Palm Beach, but he said couldn't attract a large following because of the area's lower-income population.
By offering to see patients where they live and work, Stitsky hopes to differentiate himself from other concierge practices -- most notably Boca Raton-based MDVIP Inc., which has 22 doctors in Palm Beach County.
Stitsky still charges patients' insurance if they have it, and he charges extra for lab tests.
The concierge medicine trend is not limited to Palm Beach County.
Dr. Cheryl Jordan, a former U.S. Army doctor who moved to the region last year, has opened the Treasure Coast's first such practice on Ocean Boulevard in Stuart.
The Jupiter High School graduate, who said she plans to limit her practice to 300 patients, charges a $2,250 annual membership fee.
For that, patients get, among other things, Jordan's cellphone number, same-day appointments and a comprehensive yearly physical.
Jordan also throws in a customized leather binder in which patients' complete medical reports and records can be kept for speedy reference.
And she makes house calls, if necessary.
"I have always wanted to have my own practice," she said, "and I like the concept of concierge medicine to help give patients longer appointments and easier access."
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