Why I Switched To Concierge Medicine: A Pediatrician Explains

Written by Dr. Brian Thornburg

Concierge medicine works for people who value in wellness and not just symptom relief. I should know—I am a concierge pediatrician who practices osteopathic and functional medicine.

I did not begin my career this way. I started out in a large multi-specialty group with four pediatricians and two nurse practitioners. The corporate offices wanted me to see a new patient every eight minutes. Unfortunately, quality medicine requires more time than eight minutes, which is barely enough for a simple introduction. With this system, we inevitably ran over time and patients often waited up to two hours to be seen. Parent education was often re-directed to the internet.

We struggled to get reimbursements from insurance companies, and to maintain enough cash flow to cover our overhead. We had to vaccinate new babies with five shots at the same time in order to make it profitable. Sick visits were often scheduled several days out. When on call with a practice of over 20,000 children, I knew almost no patients or families. Antibiotics were used as a quick time saver when not always necessarily needed. This impersonal medicine was inadequate and also led to many unnecessary visits to the ER.

Parents felt like they were being herded in and out of the office with their children like cattle, and indeed they were. Sadly, this practice style is becoming the norm in medicine today as more than 60% of physicians are projecting to be working in corporate groups.

After two years at this career, I quit and set out on my own. A friend of mine had left the same large group to practice concierge family practice and convinced me that concierge was the way to go. He was overjoyed that he could enjoy practicing medicine again!

My fellow pediatricians thought that concierge medicine would never work with children and that I’d come groveling back in a few months. My wife, an ER doc, worked a few extra shifts so I could venture out into my own practice.

It’s been eight years now and I love my career; I would never practice any other way. I have time to volunteer and to give back to the community, and I'm able to offer free concierge service to several families in need. With more schedule flexibility, I can ensure that I don’t miss my daughter’s receiving the award for writing the best essay at school. (We have eight children, so I need extra time for activities!) In addition, I give free lectures to the community on nutrition, the vaccine debate, environmental health, and parenting.

Most of my parents are working families and they have choices. There are plenty of pediatricians in our town. Families choose me because of the personalized care that allows for healthier children. I am available 24/7 for my patients. I emphasize wellness through nutrition, supplements and alternative medicines to avoid antibiotics and prescriptions. I also highlight the importance of exercise and family time, discipline, and spiritual needs. Indeed the whole patient is important in my practice.

If you're thinking about hiring a concierge physician, consider:

  • You'll have more time with your physician.
  • Plan for health & wellness; the physician is not just for illnesses.
  • Maximize you nutrient intake with nutrition counseling.
  • Antibiotics may be used only when absolutely necessary.
  • You have fewer emergency/urgent care visits after hours.
  • You'll probably have fewer hospital admissions.
  • The yearly fee can often be paid in monthly installments.
  • Many offer home visits.

Because of the great interest in concierge medicine, my wife and I began Innovative Pediatrics, a consulting company that transitions and supports pediatricians as they convert to concierge medicine. With many health care choices changing in the near future, we hope to provide pediatricians the tools to practice the best medicine possible.

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