Deep Dive: A Subscription Prescription For Medical Efficiency

Medical patients often feel neglected by physicians, but 80 percent of the latter feel overwhelmed by their caseloads. Subscription medicine could be the right treatment, offering patients a more affordable alternative to medical care, reducing physicians’ workload to more manageable levels and establishing additional sources of income. The following Deep Dive examines whether subscription medicine is the cure for many common medical market ills.

Subscriptions offer consumers access to a steady supply of products, from food preparation and cosmetics to clothing and more. It now appears medical care could be the latest business disrupted by them.

Subscription medicine — also called “membership medicine,” “concierge medicine” and “direct primary care” — allows patients to pay a monthly, quarterly or annual fee to access a wide range of benefits and services. It is currently offered in a limited number of primary care practices, but appears to be ready for a growth spurt.

This Deep Dive explores subscription medicine services’ appeal and how the business model could disrupt the healthcare market.

A Healthy Market for Medical Subscriptions

Subscription medicine is not a new concept, as the first model debuted in the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s. Today, these services are available in several price tiers, from $400 to $600 for basic direct primary care to $25,000 for a “luxury concierge” offering.

The potential benefits are similar to those of many consumer-focused subscriptions. Patients receive personalization, which many subscription businesses seek to offer subscribers. A patient-specific subscription can help users better understand their health needs, make more informed choices and encourage cost-focused decisions.

Subscription medicine offers subscribers on-demand access to doctors the way top subscription services — like Netflix or Hulu — offer it through their platforms. Patients also gain a range of medical benefits, including same- or next-day appointments, and can often connect with doctors about health concerns using phone, email, text, video conferencing and other remote means when in-person appointments are unavailable.

Doctors have their own reasons for considering subscription medicine. It provides them with access to reliable revenue sources, for example, and the flexibility to determine how many patients they can accept. The option also provides the potential to reduce patient caseloads and prevent overwork. A 2016 Physicians Foundation survey of more than 17,000 doctors found 80 percent of respondents were either “overextended or at capacity,” making it impossible to see additional patients. In addition, 48 percent were forced to limit their hours after being overworked.

Employers can also benefit from subscription medicine. It can be less expensive than traditional healthcare coverage, meaning businesses save money when covering their workers’ health insurance. In fact, subscription medicine could help employers save 10 to 40 percent on insurance costs, by some estimates.

The wide range of medical services available through subscription plans means the subscription medicine market could see significant growth in coming years, as it is already increasing at 5 to 9 percent per year, by some accounts. While not likely to be a panacea for healthcare, subscription medicine appears to have the potential to ease common industry pains. It could be the right diagnosis to make medicine more accessible and fair for patients and physicians alike.