At the height of the pandemic in New York City, concierge medicine providers were fielding phone calls left and right from clients eager to get tested, stat. Doctors were asked to zip out to the Hamptons to deliver quick turnaround tests before dinner parties, others to fast-track tests for C-suite executives and tech titans eager to get back to business as usual. Overall, concierge practices—membership to which typically runs in the neighborhood of $10,000 a year—got a lot busier. Enrollment surged, and not just among the ultra-rich. There were also those who weighed the cost/benefit of not having to stand in line at City MD, and who wanted to feel secure that if they did catch the virus, they could be treated immediately by the best doctors available—then made the adjustments necessary to pay.
“The pandemic has reinforced that, for all of the amazing and committed medical professionals pouring their hearts into their work, the healthcare system is an impersonal, bureaucratic behemoth,” says Ben Kruger, the co-founder of Sollis Health, a concierge service with medical centers in New York and, as of October, Beverly Hills. “Traditional institutions just aren’t nimble enough to provide personalized and efficient care—especially during a crisis—and now people are actively searching for alternatives.”
Actress Frida Pinto, a Sollis Health member, says she was initially drawn to the idea merely as an efficient way of self-monitoring. “All my friends know that I am completely obsessed with my health. And not as a hypochondriac, but just as someone who is very interested in studying and learning about her body and the importance of good health," she says. "When I looked into joining Sollis, I liked that I had the option to speak to a doctor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, if and when the need arose.” As a famous face, the privacy factor helped too. “I like the fact that concierge medicine is so private,” she says. “That gives me a sense of peace, especially in a profession where there is constant media and public curiosity.”
But while concierge medicine has traditionally lulled clients such as Pinto—health conscious, affluent, not partial to hanging out in waiting rooms—its appeal is now primarily driven by the pandemic. The number one service provided by Sollis Health this year has been Covid tests, followed by specialized Covid care. “Sollis was one of the first services to provide Covid testing with 24-hour turnaround times,” says CCO Sabine Heller. “We also pioneered in-home Covid care with imaging and oxygen support. That’s allowed us to have significantly lower hospitalization and mortality rates for our members than Manhattan community averages.” Unlike many concierge practices, which focus chiefly on house calls, Sollis Health membership grants access to private, fully equipped facilities, complete with emergency services and imaging equipment, as well as VIP status at several hospitals. For many, that alone is worth the annual membership, which starts at $3,000 for an individual under 45 ($5,000 for 45 and up).
In this climate, there’s the strong sense that who your GP is matters a lot more than it ever has before: New Yorkers, keen to carry on with a semblance of social lives while sipping martinis under outdoor heaters at Pastis, are comparing notes about access and care—who will answer fastest when called, who can facilitate top-tier treatment if things take a turn for the worst. A concierge practice mitigates that worry, while fostering a mutually invested relationship that goes far beyond an annual blood screening.
As the vaccine begins its bumpy, slower-than-anticipated, rollout, providers are seeing another surge—this time in calls from clients hoping to jump the line. But even for those with money and connections, rules are rules. Concierge practices are governed by the same limitations in supply, and restrictions on legal eligibility for those queueing up for the jab, as everyone else. Ultimately, most clients do understand this. “I have been humbled by the patience and sense of civic responsibility our members have shown during this crisis,” Heller says.
Indications are that the demand for concierge practices may endure long after we’ve put Covid behind us, a luxury amenity that many will consider an essential item on the better-living menu. “We see this movement away from traditional healthcare systems to the more custom services as part of a larger consumer trend (just think of Tesla in auto or Peleton in exercise),” says Kruger. “I believe Covid will be a driver for long-term change.”
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