The Covid pandemic has taught us the importance of taking care of our health. Considering the negative impact on humanity, the crisis itself resulted in one positive outcome. It has made healthcare management through telemedicine or digital health services more acceptable. The option of subscription-oriented healthcare has gained currency.
What is a subscription-based healthcare model?
The terms used to describe are many, like Membership medicine, Concierge medicine, Retainer medicine, and the like. They essentially mean the same thing.
It involves making a fee payment or retainer charge to a healthcare provider to receive enhanced care and better availability. Concierge medicine comes at steep costs involving insurance, while direct care is a little easy on the pocket.
It is now common to find companies that provide subscription healthcare as an incentive to their employees. As a result, they get access to medical facilities to undergo tests, check-ups and consulting services. This usually aims at decreasing costs and improving healthcare efficiency. While Covid may have advanced its cause, it is not a new concept.
History: How did all this start
Sometime in 1996, Dr In Seattle, Howard Maron, and Dr Scott Hall realized that healthcare services available to professional sportspersons were way more than what others had. They felt that the market was ripe for making such niche healthcare available to the general population. Since that meant a reduction in patient numbers, they charged an affordable annual retainer fee to access their services. Thus, began the MD2 (MD Squared) brand of subscription healthcare. It still continues to be popular.
The way this works is that for a flat monthly fee, you can avail of any number of doctor visits and access to healthcare professionals, diagnostic services, vaccinations, prescriptions, and more. Variations of this type of non-traditional healthcare are emerging for recurring billing subscription models.
Types of Subscription Healthcare Plans
Where subscription healthcare is in vogue, especially in the United States, insurance coverage or its lack determines what type a subscription plan falls under. Based on the number of visits and procedures allowed by the doctor, patients pay a flat fee at a fixed term, say monthly, quarterly, or annually.
- Membership Medicine: There are limits to the number of visits that one can avail.
- Concierge Medicine: Insurance coverage is accepted for contingencies.
- Direct Primary Care: Insurance coverage is not accepted. Payment has to be made for all incidentals.
What are the Benefits?
Once anyone buys into a plan, they spend longer time with the doctor and can secure an appointment at a convenient time. However, the doctors receive a regular monthly payment and get to see a manageable number of patients: almost a fifth of what a doctor regularly sees. By far, the most critical spin-off is the promotion of a healthy lifestyle to prevent a slide that could lead to worse outcomes.
For employers who subsidize or defray expenses, such employee health programs translate into reduced healthcare costs, higher productivity, greater job satisfaction, and lesser employee turnover.
What are the Concerns?
There are a few problem scenarios to consider:
Shortage of care providers: If most doctors or care providers opt for the subscription-based healthcare model, who will the remaining patients go to?
Hazy regulatory regime: In some states, these subscription models may be interpreted as falling under the health insurance regime and therefore open for regulation by authorities. That changes the equation totally.
Privileged access creates barriers: Should subscription healthcare continue to gain popularity, those with access enjoy healthcare benefits, and those who cannot afford it may be left out of the system. What will be the broader repercussions be for society and the government?
These are genuine concerns that need to be addressed to make subscription healthcare a viable option that can be replicated in all parts of the world.