New 'concierge' practice offers patients 24/7 access to doc

Ace Stryker
http://www.heraldextra.com

One Utah County doctor is hoping to bring back the days of the personal physician, complete with house calls.

In many ways, the concept is a new spin on an old ideal. Dr. Wesley Wylie is ditching the weathered travel-by-carriage-with-leather-medicine-bag-in-tow image, promising in its place 24/7 direct personal communication by cell phone and e-mail and free access to online medical records. For $125 a month, Wylie says he can get you in his office within a day’s notice and give you the personal touch many overtaxed health care professionals forget about. “It’s a full-service medical practice that’s very personalized to the individual patient,” Wylie said. “I think medicine has gotten a little bit more calloused because of the cost issues that have gone on.”

It’s part of a larger movement called “concierge medicine,” which started along the Eastern Seaboard about a decade ago and is steadily crawling westward. The basic premise is this: If patients pitch in a little extra every month in a “retainer fee,” Wylie can afford to shrink his practice from about 4,000 patients to 500 and see 10 people a day instead of 30. That allows the doctor to spend at least half an hour with everyone, regardless of the reason for their visit, and get to know them individually.

“All they really need to do is talk to somebody who knows them,” he said. “They value that type of service.”

Wylie admitted that the concierge model tends to serve wealthier people and people with a greater need for quick medical attention, but said families of all income levels have taken advantage of the system. He adopted the model about a month ago and will be in transition for another couple of months. He said that given the opportunity to spend more time with patients, he plans to stress preventative care as a means of keeping their costs down.

“We’re a bit overworked in medicine because there hasn’t been enough prevention done, and now we’re having to deal with it,” he said. “I can only do that because I know my patients.”

Fritz Black has been seeing Wylie for about 10 years. The 47-year-old Spanish Fork resident said he initially balked when he heard Wylie was converting his practice to concierge medicine, but decided to at least give it a try.

“I was a little bit skeptical, because I thought that having a doctor’s cell phone number and e-mail address would be something you would never really get,” he said.

Instead, Black said, he called Wylie one recent morning and was in the office for a checkup within an hour and a half. Another time, he called with a question at about 8 p.m. and got an answer. It’s those kinds of experiences that turned a cynic into a believer, he said.

“Now I tell you that so far, my impression is that I’ll pay this fee the rest of my life,” he said. “I can get an opinion without ever having to step foot inside an office.”

Concierge medicine is a growing practice — about 500 physicians nationwide are doing it, Wylie said — but that doesn’t mean insurance companies have caught on. Determinations about whether deductibles or health savings accounts can be applied to the monthly fee are made on a case-by-case basis, he said. Other expenses like tests and hospitalizations are still billed normally.

Still, Wylie said he wouldn’t be surprised if the arrangement became standard practice someday.

“The patients get better care, the doctor has a better lifestyle,” he said. “There’s a lot of eyes watching us right now to see how successful it is.”

Wylie will maintain his office in Provo’s Riverwoods area and is working with Hotel Park City to design a wellness clinic and medical spa at that facility as well.

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