Are You a Good Fit For Direct Primary Care?

Written by: Partnerships Director at Freedom Healthworks, Jason Rutz

If you’re a family physician interested in starting your own direct primary care practice, you probably have a lot of questions. We asked Jason Rutz, partnerships and outreach director at Freedom Healthworks to explain the direct primary care model, what launching a new practice entails, and what kind of doctor makes a good candidate for switching to DPC.

Here’s what he had to say to all of those physicians out there who’ve become disenchanted with the traditional healthcare system and want to practice family medicine on their own terms.

What is direct primary care, or DPC?

The concept is simple. It’s facilitating a direct relationship between doctor and patient, so nothing comes in between those two parties. Not insurance companies. Not hospitals or networks. It’s a very pure relationship, and it’s something that’s not currently being done in healthcare.

Why are doctors transitioning to DPC?

I think it’s all about freedom. Doctors want to spend the time they feel they really need to spend with their patients. They basically want to do what they were trained to do, which is treat illness and help people stay healthy. Unfortunately, current medicine really prohibits them from doing that properly, because of the amount of patients they’re required to see per day.

From our perspective, the DPC model really centers around the patient. Doctors are able to spend quality time with patients, and take the time to address complex health issues. They can talk to patients about things they didn’t have time to address when working within a traditional hospital system or network, because there wasn’t a way to bill insurance for that extra time and attention.

Direct primary care gives physicians an opportunity to have in-depth conversations with patients about diet or exercise, or spend time with a patient suffering from a chronic condition that requires more of a doctor’s attention than what a traditional 15-minute office visit allows.

Explain the process of launching a DPC practice. What should doctors keep in mind during the transition?

Think of it like building a house. Constructing an entire house is a very complex process. Building the frame is one thing, but it’s all of the detail items like types of materials and finishes that you must consider as well.

That’s very similar to starting a DPC practice. There are a lot of big, foundational tasks, like finding a location and the right office space, but there are also a lot of details that go into planning it. You’re building a brand, essentially.

I’d say the most important advice for physicians is to stay open-minded, and really get involved in the process. When you start a DPC practice, it’s a clean slate. You don’t have to think within the confines of traditional family medicine anymore, so it really becomes a question of what do you want to get out of this practice?

A lot of times when I talk to new DPC physicians about this, and even some practices we’ve launched in the past, I’ve noticed they keep blinders on when deciding how to set up their practice and focus on how primary care offices have traditionally operated over the past decade or so.

I always tell a new DPC physician, don’t think about anything you’ve done in the past. Think about what you want your practice to be now. How do you want to be promoted? What are your interests or passions that you couldn’t incorporate into your practice before? You now have the flexibility to weave those things into your practice as part of your brand.

Sometimes, it takes a little bit of guidance for doctors to think about those aspects of their business because they didn’t have the freedom to focus on them before. Essentially, you’re building your dream practice and that can be whatever you want it to be.

What type of doctor does the DPC model work well for, and which doctors are not an ideal candidate for DPC?

Direct primary care is a relatively new concept, so DPC doctors must understand the profound need to educate patients and the public.

It takes a physician who’s willing to go out and talk to people about direct primary care. To be successful, doctors must also be comfortable talking about the practice and their personal experiences.

Physicians who want to basically punch in and out of their day job wouldn’t do well under the DPC model. Same goes for those doctors who don’t care to promote themselves or espouse the benefits of direct primary care.

What obstacles do doctors commonly face when transitioning to the DPC model?

I think the biggest barrier is patient education, as well as educating those within the healthcare system who don’t necessarily understand direct primary care.

It’s important to really know and care about what the direct primary care movement stands for, to understand how it’s different than the traditional approach, and how it benefits not only the physician but the patient as well. You must master those talking points, because you’ll have to address them a lot as a DPC physician.

Championing the DPC care model becomes relatively easy because it’s such an easy thing to believe in. Our physicians believe very deeply in DPC. They feel they should have the right to spend time with a patient without worrying about the next patient coming in the door and rushing them, or having to see 30 patients a day.

When they experience firsthand the difference direct primary care makes and the level of care they’re able to provide to their patients, that makes it really easy to advocate the benefits of DPC.

Any other advice for a physician considering DPC?

Those doctors who are wondering if now is the right time to start a DPC practice need to ask themselves if they’re willing to talk to people about how medicine should be practiced. Are they willing to promote direct primary care, and are they willing to promote their own practice?

At Freedom Healthworks, we have experience helping physicians build their DPC practices so we lessen that burden to an extent. We do a lot of the heavy lifting on behalf of our physicians when it comes to educating the public about the benefits of DPC, as well as branding and promoting the practice.

Ultimately, it still comes down to a doctor’s ability to sell the idea of DPC to a new patient walking into the office, because they may not understand the direct primary care concept. In that regard, I think it’s important to truly understand the sales aspect of launching a DPC practice.

Think about what will resonate with patients and make it attractive for them to join a DPC practice versus continuing with a traditional family medicine practice that’s linked to their insurance.

I think physicians determining whether they should they should go into direct primary care, even with our help, still need to have that mindset.

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