The concierge medicine model is becoming more and more popular. There are several different types of concierge medical practices, but what is emerging as the traditional format is where the patient pays an annual fee for direct access to a physician. The medical practice profits from the fee but then it also bills insurance companies for patient visits. Using this model, doctors have a smaller, selective number of patients to care for. The annual fee gives those patients same day access to a doctor and longer doctor visits.
Concierge medical management companies have emerged on the scene to manage the business end of advertising, building brand awareness and other support for their contracted physicians. MDVIP, which is the largest concierge medical practice in the United States, has grown exponentially on the promise of their doctors providing “exceptional care” and easy access to doctors for a $1,500 annual membership fee. But in February 2015, a jury returned an $8.5 million medical malpractice verdict against MDVIP for the negligence of one of its doctors, who was sued for misdiagnosing a patient’s leg pain which eventually led to its amputation. The jury also found the firm’s advertising of its exceptional doctors and patient care to be false.
The medical malpractice lawsuit was brought by the widower of the late Joan Berber of Boca Raton, Florida, who was seeking medical care for the pain she was experiencing in her leg. Despite her repeated complaints that the pain was worsening, Mrs. Berger was repeatedly misdiagnosed by Dr. Metzger and other MDVIP staff doctors, who sent Mrs. Berger to orthopedists without forwarding her medical records. Her condition worsened and her leg was eventually amputated. Mr. Berger’s attorneys maintain that the circulation problem his wife suffered from might have been diagnosed if the orthopedists had received his wife’s medical records from Dr. Metzger. Mrs. Berber died in 2008 of leukemia four years after her leg was amputated.
The medical concierge industry enjoys an excellent track record thus far. Concierge physicians are able to limit the number of patients they see, which gives them a lot more time with each patient which should make for a higher level of care. This verdict shows that even high priced physicians with more time to spend with each patient can still be negligent. Now that it is clear that medical concierge management companies can be held liable for the conduct of their doctor affiliates, maybe there will be a higher level of scrutiny to ensure that the care these private doctors deliver is on par with the promises made in their marketing materials.