Five years ago, while Paul Cernuto was mountain biking on a Friday afternoon, he suddenly developed a severe headache.
“It was excruciating — I couldn’t even pedal to the car,’’ says Cernuto, who lives in Martinsville, NJ, and owns a landscaping company.
Cernuto, then 44, dialed his internist, Bruce Aronwald. Although it was the start of a weekend, the doc picked up right away.
“I was able to get hold of him on his personal cellphone. When I explained my symptoms, he instructed me to go straight to the emergency room, and there was a team of people waiting for me,” says Cernuto. “They rushed over to the car and rolled me right into the hospital.’
Within minutes, he was getting a CAT scan and discovered he had suffered an aneurysm.
“He saved my life,’’ says Cernuto, who shells out an extra $3,600 annually for him and his wife to receive “concierge’’ medical service from Aronwald.
Most New Yorkers struggle to find doctors they trust who accept their plans, only to spend hours in waiting rooms and then be rushed through their visits. But others, like Cernuto, choose to pay yearly fees to physicians like Aronwald to get preferential treatment, such as 24/7 access, immediate appointments, guarantees of no waiting-room limbo and more face time with doctors. Many docs will open on weekends, make house calls and coordinate with a patient’s specialists.
Some concierge physicians charge a high flat fee, which includes visits and most diagnostics, while others, such as Aronwald, accept insurance and charge an additional annual fee for the perks. As compensation from insurance companies has plummeted, more practices are offering these extras rather than staying afloat by seeing twice the number of patients. According to MarketWatch, between 2012 and 2013, the number of doctors practicing concierge medicine increased sixfold, to approximately 4,400 nationwide.
“I know doctors who have been fired [from their medical groups] because they can’t keep appointments with patients down to just 10 minutes,’’ says Adria Goldman Gross, a patient advocate and co-author of “Solved! Curing Your Medical Insurance Problems.” “Concierge medicine is the only [alternative] out there, but the sad part is, many people can’t afford it.’’
Gastroenterologist and internist Edward Goldberg converted to the concierge model in 2014. He no longer takes insurance and charges an annual fee of $20,000, which includes all office visits and tests. House calls are an additional $1,000 per visit.
“When I refer [a patient] to another doctor, I have had a conversation [with the doctor] before the patient arrives, like in the old days,” he says. “There is a little magic that happens when docs talk to other docs about patients.’’
Establishing close doctor-patient relationships is one of the model’s biggest draws.
“They let doctors practice in a way they’ve always wanted to — getting to know and spend time with their patients,” says John Connolly, president of Castle Connolly Medical, which publishes the “America’s Top Doctors” guide.
Castle Connolly launched the concierge group Castle Connolly Private Health Partners at the end of 2015. The annual charge to patients ranges from $2,000 to $3,500, depending on the physician, and most under the company’s umbrella accept insurance. In addition to the concierge extras, patients get a coach who helps them develop a healthy lifestyle.
“The average wait for a doctor visit in New York is now three weeks,’’ says Connolly. “If you don’t feel well, you don’t want to wait three weeks. And the average visit is seven minutes. With concierge medicine you get appointments immediately, and visits can last 45 minutes or an hour.’’
Some patients will find preferred treatment not only with their own doctors, but top-notch service from their physicians’ colleagues, too.
“Dr. Aronwald makes appointments that fit [my family’s] schedule, and the doctors respect his referrals,’’ says Cernuto. “I needed to get a fusion in my back, and I couldn’t get an appointment with anyone for three weeks, but he got me one within two days. That’s the kind of pull he has.’’
Upper East Side internist Peter Bruno says he has gone from seeing 25 patients per day to 10 after going the concierge route. He recently went over a patient’s CAT scan with a radiologist who caught a small cancer nodule during their call. “They hadn’t picked it up initially,’’ he says. “Previously, I wouldn’t have had time to call the radiologist to go over this.’’
Retired attorney Susan Thomas, 62, who lives on the Upper West Side, is delighted that Bruno converted his practice. She and her husband each pay an annual fee of $5,000.
“He is giving me an opportunity to be understood and have better health in general, as well as [address] any specific needs,’’ says Thomas. “If something happens on a holiday, he will be there.
“Some people spend their money on taxis or vacations, but he is helping us to live a longer life.’’
Republished from The New York Post