Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A New Take on Primary Care Annual Fee Provides Health Services, More

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A New Take on Primary Care Annual Fee Provides Health Services, More

Article excerpt

While Washington dithers on what to do with health care, a local company believes its program may represent health care's future.

At Connected Health, consumers who pay an annual fee can come to the gleaming 20,000-square-foot facility in the Wexford section of Pine and consult with a primary care physician, pick up prescriptions, meet with a dietitian, work out with a personal trainer and have access to spacious fitness areas.

All under one roof; no insurance other than for prescriptions, no deductibles and no co-payments necessary.

Concierge medical care - a subscription model in which patients pay an annual fee for 24/7 access to a primary care physician - is an idea that has been around for a while.

"We try to be more than a concierge," said Connected Health CEO Betty Rich, who is also a registered pharmacist and co-founded the company with certified personal trainer Michael Fox.

She frequently uses the word "quarterback" to describe what they do, offering continuous and personal primary care, guiding people through their medical concerns and questions. In coming weeks, the plan is to also bring in Signature Financial Planning of Mount Washington to help clients plan for future medical expenses.

Small procedures, such as stitches or a mole removal, can be done at the Perry Highway site in one of Connected Health's four exam rooms. When a specialist is needed, Connected Health medical director Andrew DeMarco may accompany the patient to consultations and check up on the individual at home after the surgery.

"[Dr. DeMarco] is their first call before they would go to an emergency room," Ms. Rich said.

The 2-year-old firm has 150 patients, and Dr. DeMarco, who is board certified in internal medicine, knows each of them and their medical history. In his prior professional life as part of a Gibsonia internal medicine practice, he oversaw care for 4,000 to 6,000 individuals.

"It's very hard to keep track of all those people," Dr. DeMarco said. "It's very difficult to help them navigate a very complex system when you're trying to care for them, so a lot of the navigation falls on the patient. You rely on them to follow up."

He also saw how changes in health care delivery were affecting his relationship with patients.

"It always seemed to me that when I was in the exam room there were three people - me, the patient, and the insurance company representative, if not the hospital representative, too. It became a crowded room," Dr. DeMarco said.

"Our stock and trade at Connected Health is to minimize the interference between the doctor and the patient from the outside world. …

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