The VIP Treatment
Doctors at Your Service
Story by Sarah Hart Miller
Photo by Bill Mason
Walking into Dr. Mason Jones’ cozy office for the first time may feel a bit like walking into your favorite spa… dim lights, calming classical music, plush, comfy chairs, lit candles and a virtual “fire” burning on the big screen TV don’t give the impression of a typical doctor’s office.
Nowhere to be found are the waiting rooms full of antsy, busy people, institutional décor or noisy children. But then, this isn’t your typical family medical practice. A patient needing a simple flu shot breezes through the waiting room to the back, where a nurse immediately sits him down and administers his injection. Dr. Mason Jones and his father, Dr. William E. “Bill” Jones, pride themselves on delivering VIP treatment to all of their patients, and it shows.
These two physicians put their money where their mouth is when it comes to improving Texas’ health care system, offering a unique alternative to traditional “assembly line” managed health care. Known as a “concierge” model of medicine, this unique brand of care gives patients unlimited access to their doctors 24/7 for a yearly fee. The doctors accept only 600 patients each, which allows them to spend more quality time per patient (typically an hour-and-a-half for a complete head-to-toe physical!) rather than the 2500-to-4000 patient load typically juggled by other family practice physicians. Treating each patient as family, these docs learn every detail of their patient’s medical histories drilling down into health issues, family history, work-life balance, nutrition and exercise; so if a patient needs to contact them outside of regular office hours, they can offer sound advice or prescribe just the right medication over the phone. The doctors automatically know each patient’s name, their family members’ names, what medicines they’re taking, what procedures they’ve had in the last several years, what are each patient’s risk factors – even, in fact, the direct phone numbers of their 600 patients, conveniently plugged into their person cell phones.
The value of this VIP treatment goes beyond the basics of routine medical care – patients benefit from the confidence and peace-of-mind that their hands-on physicians will spend quality time getting to know them, providing through, proactive medical care, helping them achieve their best physical state so they can enjoy life for many years to come. For professional women and moms in particular, this alternative model of medicine is appealing, offering a one-stop shopping of high-level medical care, available when they need it (usually the same day), without the hassles of insurance approvals and waiting weeks or months to get on their doctor’s calendar.
“There’s a saying in medicine that care can be prompt, thorough, or inexpensive – pick any two,” says Dr. Bill Jones. “We provide a niche service that encourages our patients to stay on top of their health. The professional woman or mom, especially, may be so preoccupied and immersed in her life or career that she’s not focusing on preventative car, doing the right things week-to-week to take care of herself. We have a vested interest in keeping our patients happy and healthy, so that at the end of the year they have seen the value in the first-class treatment they have received, attending to the little problems and coming in as often as they like, so they don’t experience bigger problems down the road.”
Dr. Mason Jones adds, “Most of us think about and plan for our financial future 30 years down the road, but have not thought about how we are going to get there physically. No one plans what their health is going to be like in 30 years. We help our patients take better care of themselves now, so they can count on a better quality of life now and in the future. We want them to be able to hang onto their good health as long as possible; so when they finally reap the rewards of their years of financial planning, they will be able to physically enjoy every minute of it”
Unfortunately, in today’s current health care environment, focusing on the future does not pay. In the last decade, skyrocketing liability insurance, shrinking reimbursements, and soaring overhead costs have forced most doctors to take on larger and larger patient case loads in order to remain solvent. Fewer and fewer medical students pursue primary care, with the average number of graduates declining by as much as 17% per year. The average doctor’s visit has been whittled down to around seven-and-a-half minutes per patient, which means traditional physicians only have time to treat the immediate problems. In 2002, the Primary Care Coalition, made up of over 15,000 primary care physicians, issued a warning on the state of healthcare in Texas, stating, “…if Texas does not take steps to reinforce its primary care networks, our health care system will crumble…” This drastic prediction is partly what led Dr. Mason Jones to join his father in the first place. “Knowing that I would be able to join my fathers practice, and be able to practice family medicine the way it ought to be practiced – focused on quality care and not mass production – is what kept me going in residency,“ Dr. Jones states.
Concierge Family Medicine (CFM) challenges today’s current health care crisis, offering patients immediate access to care at any time and as often as they wish throughout the year for a fixed “retainer” between $1200 and $1800 a year for adults and $500 a year for children five years and older. Services such as annual physicals, cholesterol checks, well-woman visits, immunizations, lab work, counseling on risk management, stress, nutrition and other environmental or lifestyle risks are all included in the yearly fee. Suffering from a minor injury or the flu? CFM docs are “on-call” at any hour, even helping clients navigate the complex system of referrals to specialists and staying involved in every stage of the medical care process. This is a particularly appealing option for moms and professional women, who typically make frequent visits to the family pediatrician or gynecologist in addition to their regular yearly checkups. Most CFM patients still carry health insurance through their employers’ health insurance plan, but are willing to pay the additional yearly fee in order to access their doctors the same day they need them. Some patients may be eligible to receive “out-of-network” benefits for their CFM visits, or can choose to cover the fee through their tax-deductible health savings account plans. Conventional insurance is still needed for any services not able to be performed at the office, such as x-rays, diagnostic testing and emergency room visits.
However, this pioneering duo believes today’s busy woman will want more choices when it comes to high quality primary care for themselves and their families. And what sets the Doctors Jones apart is their level of involvement and concern for their patients. “These doctors’ attention to detail is unique,” testifies Dr. Frank Zidar, a cardiologist with Austin Heart, who frequently receives referrals for CFM patients. “Thoroughly educating patients is a very time-consuming process. Both doctors are very good at gaining their patients’ trust and compliance. Their relationships are closer than those of most primary care physicians because they do take the time to really educate and encourage them to make healthy lifestyle modifications. My job as a cardiologist is easier when I see their patients because I already know their patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol will be under tight control. This leaves me time to focus on the patient’s active cardiac issues.”
Clearly it’s a model that works, and their long-term patients are the proof – many never even considering going elsewhere for their primary care. “My husband and I have been patients of Dr. Bill Jones for the past 25 years. His Concierge service is so fabulous we would never go back to the long wait time and multiple trips involved in regular health care,” states Cindy Greenwood. “When my kids were old enough to be on the Concierge plan they were also signed up. It was so great to be able to avoid the long waits in the pediatrician’s office. Dr. Bill Jones and his son are truly phenomenal. I can call them anytime, and no matter where they are, they will always answer their phone or call me back within five minutes. They’re like the old-fashioned doctors who really took care of your entire family. For busy women and professionals, their service really simplifies life.”
Fortunately for those wanting an alternative option to traditional medical care, Dr. Mason Jones’ recent addition to the practice means the doctors can once again accept a limited number of new patients. With only three doctors in Austin currently practicing concierge medicine, however, new patients will have to call soon to sign up to receive the red carpet treatment they deserve. But at least they won’t have to wait for appointments once they are accepted as patients. And they’ll never have to wait for their doctor to return a phone call. CFM doctors are literally at their service, which leaves their patients feeling they’ve hit the jackpot.