A direct mail solicitation landed in my mailbox today from One Medical Group, "introducing a whole new way for you to see the doctor."
What's the new way? "To support our practice, we ask patients to pay a low annual membership fee of $199." For this you can "schedule your appointments online," "see your doctor on time," and "email your doctor with questions."
1. This is great — free market competition and technology, rather than government mandates, addressing health care access and quality issues.
2. How many other professional service businesses are there where, on top of the whatever fee the customers pay for the service, the customer has to pay an extra annual fee for the privilege of e-mailing the professional or of having the professional show up on time for meetings? In most other fields, these are the sort of things that are basic courtesy and communication, not something you have to pay extra for. If a college professor asked students to pay him extra to guarantee that he showed up for class on time, or if a lawyer tried to charge extra for communicating with her by email rather than phone or in person, the students or clients would probably think there was something strange going on. But with health care, the baseline customer experience is often so poor that the alternative sounds attractive.
3. Any scenario where a business can reduce its overhead — "schedule your appointments online" means fewer humans needed to answer the phones — while portraying it as a selling point that is more convenient for the customers is a win-win. Well, it's a win for the doctor who was paying the phone answerer, and potentially a win for the patient, but it's perhaps a loss for the person who used to have a job answering the phone and scheduling patients and who has now been replaced by software.