Direct primary care presents new possibilities for affordable health care
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Dr. Dean Funk believes he is part of a trend that could significantly change the health care system in America. Funk is a direct primary care physician. Patients come to him for general checkups, wellness exams, and routine office visits. Primary care physicians are a patient’s first contact when they have a medical concern.
Funk’s practice, CD DPC, recently opened a third-floor office inside Marshfield City Hall.
Funk hopes that his practice, which works to provide affordable primary health care for small- and medium-sized businesses, can have a major impact on how consumers view and participate in the health care system. Funk charges a flat rate of $30 per person per month to encourage patients to come in and see him instead of delaying an office visit for fear of overwhelming medical expenses.
Funk said that if patients are more willing and likely to visit their doctor for basic checkups, it is possible to take a more preventative approach with them, catching a small issue before it becomes a potentially larger medical concern. He added that people are often afraid of how much a routine doctor visit will cost, which may prevent them from making an appointment even when they may need to be seen.
“On the cost side, (people) have no idea. They know it’s going to be expensive, but they really don’t have any idea until after they come out (of the doctor’s office). Two weeks later you get a bill and go, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” Funk said.
He also believes that direct primary care offers a level of personal interaction that cannot be matched by larger providers where physicians are often pressured to see as many patients as possible.
This pressure to see a higher volume of patients has a number of effects according to Funk: It reduces the amount of time a doctor can spend with a given patient, it worsens patient-doctor communication because time is limited, and it increases stress on the doctors as they try to provide comprehensive care in a small window of time.
Part of this pressure to see as many patients as possible stems from the fact that larger facilities have expansive payrolls and big facilities that must be paid for, Funk said. He believes a smaller practice like his will naturally be more flexible and be able to provide a more personalized level of care for patients.
The direct primary care model will also create increased efficiency in the health care system, Funk said. By knowing the patient on a deep level, direct primary care physicians can more quickly identify what treatments a person may need and can more efficiently route the patient to the proper care should they need a specialist.
Funk added that patients can be more efficiently “guided through” the health care system by a direct primary care physician. He believes direct primary care can be a way to communicate with the larger health care system to the benefit of the patient, helping guide people to the best, most affordable facilities and doctors.
Funk said that if one of his patients needs to see a specialist physician, he can advise them on who the best doctors in the area are for that particular specialty.
“It’s an expert who is now advising the patient,” Funk said. “We work together with the patient.”
This model of direct primary care, Funk believes, will cause a reaction from the health care market.
He said that if, for example, he advises a patient to get a chest X-ray, he can help the patient reach out to facilities in the area and see where that particular test would be most affordable.
“Now the market is acting (in response to the patient),” Funk said. “That’s going to change the whole United States.
“The American economy is going to benefit. Imagine, now people will get health care in a timely fashion. They’ll have money in their pocket for … discretionary spending. Healthy workforce, healthier kids … there’s no left side or right side politically to this,” he said.
Funk added that over time the facilities that offer the most competitive prices and the best care will receive the most referrals from direct primary care physicians. Larger facilities will have to offer the highest levels of service to patients at an affordable rate in order to gain their business.
The level of competition will be aided by the fact that direct primary care has the ability to see a large volume of patients who come in for an initial visit and then must be routed, or “triaged,” to a specialist if something more serious needs to be treated.
Funk said that he is confident the direct primary care model will provide a level of care and affordability such that the demand for it will be high.
For more information on Dr. Dean Funk’s practice, visit http://cddpc.org/.