Earning or having more money might not universally increase happiness or health. Wealthy people can be sad or sick just like those who are less financially fortunate. More money does provide more access to “stuff,” though, and people often like that “stuff.” Businesses that cater to the rich with services for which they might be willing to pay extra often thrive. In economic downturns, rich consumers often stay rich and save more of their money, but they’ll likely return to their luxury items.
One of these services is medicine. Concierge doctors, doctor to whom you can pay a retainer to ensure personal attention at any time, have increased in number over the past few years. Not all of the popularity increase can be attributed to the entertaining television program Royal Pains, in which a doctor whose career abruptly ends due to his positive ethics that conflicted with the medical establishment moves to the Hamptons to seek out a wealthy clientele while also treating the residential underclass for free. More doctors are turning to this style of business because medical school was expensive, they have bills to pay, general practice doesn’t provide great salaries, and the thought of higher income beckons.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the wealthier one is, the greater the quality of medical care one might receive. Doctors are ethically bound to treat everyone to the best of their ability, regardless of financial situation. Paying for membership to a private doctor might increase availability for appointments but won’t increase the quality of your medicine or advice. It can, however, provide the feeling that one is well cared for and reduce the anticipation of stress during a hypothetical emergency. If one has little faith in the healthcare system — a system that works well for the most part — concierge medicine provides an alternative option if you have $1,500 to $25,000 to spend per month (according to the New York Times).
Even if the only benefits were easier access and less stress, is it fair that only those who can afford sizable monthly fees can take advantage of these services? The medical industry will continue to mutate as market forces pull it one way or another. The concept of the health maintenance organization (HMO) began around one hundred years ago when society faced the same question: how to bring quality medical care to more people. While the HMO may now be a symbol for bureaucracy and inefficiency, the system has helped keep society healthier. If traditional medicine eventually falls by the wayside in favor of more lucrative business plans, the system will continue to change to accommodate the needs of the many.
Do you think concierge medicine will help or hurt the medical industry? Is it a problem that a certain selection of medical professionals want to cater only to the rich?
Published or updated May 2, 2011.