Concierge services emerging as emergency-room alternative

One answer couples 1950s doctor-patient experience with modern tools

It’s no secret that public health care costs are high, and patient-satisfaction rates are low. That conundrum has some doctors looking for alternatives — providing niche services that cut costs while enhancing consumer experience. 

During his nine-year tenure in the emergency room, Denver ER Dr. Dan Cheek knew there had to be a better way to do business. “A busier ER might see 80,000 to 100,000 visits a year,” Cheek says.

The recent health-care overhaul sought to reduce pressure on emergency rooms by getting more patients insured, yet 75 percent of doctors polled by the American College Emergency Physicians reported increases in costly emergency room visits since 2014. Doctors across the board feel strapped for time. Cheek, for example, has 15 minutes or less with his ER patients. “You get reimbursed more for seeing more patients in the hour,” he says.

Cheek’s solution was to couple the 1950s doctor-patient experience with modern tools and a streamlined process. When he launched Yodel Health in November 2014, Cheek eliminated expensive, freestanding facilities and excess staff, and discovered that efficiency allowed for longer, more meaningful patient interaction.

Yodel’s eight board-certified emergency room physicians average an hour with each patient, providing urgent care services between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. to travelers at downtown hotels and families in neighborhoods such as Stapleton, Lowry, Park Hill and Washington Park. Providers can do anything from a rapid strep test to laceration repair, and they show up with pre-filled, non-narcotic prescriptions. Patients can even track their Yodel physician with a real-time app Cheek calls “Uber for docs.”

Yodel at-home visits start at $249, with a first-time introductory rate of $149; depending on a patient’s insurance plan, Yodel might cost consumers less than ER or Urgent Care copays. Cheek is currently finalizing a reimbursement form for insurance companies.

Cheek is joined in his efforts by Iora Health, a national primary care facility co-founded in 2011 by doctor and CEO Rushika Fernandopulle. Iora’s concierge-level team approach is client-centered: Providers see half as many patients daily as a typical doctor’s office, and cut health-care costs by building strong relationships with patients, curtailing unnecessary ER visits. Colorado is Iora’s eighth market. The company’s three local practices – located in Glendale, Lakewood and Arvada – focus on Humana Medicare Advantage patients.

“We aren’t all things to all people; these practices are pretty small, and we can get really good at what we do, which, in Colorado, is senior care,” Fernandopulle says. An Iora pilot project in Atlantic City, N.J., resulted in a 40 percent drop in hospitalizations and a 12 percent net decline in health-care costs. cb

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