How to ensure your direct primary care (DPC) practice is sustainable

The innovative direct primary care (DPC) model can be enticing as well as a bit intimidating, for both independent physicians and patients. DPC practices are essentially self-sustaining, financially, as most rely solely on patient membership fees and do not accept insurance payments. While this may sound appealing to independent physicians who are frustrated with the process of submitting claims and waiting for payments, it can also be challenging, at least at first, to sustain a practice on membership fees alone.

Dr. Rob Lamberts, writing in Physicians Practice, talks about his experience in making “the jump” from a traditional practice to the DPC model several years ago. Dr. Lamberts, who uses Elation technology successfully in his DPC practice, writes that it was not easy getting to the point in his practice where he is able to pay himself a reasonable salary while improving his quality of life and the quality of care he is able to give his smaller patient base.

Dr. Lamberts offers three tips for those independent physicians who are just starting up in a DPC practice, to help them ensure that their practice is sustainable:

  1. Have a vision. Focus on the need to provide quality healthcare, to build positive relationships with patients, and to give patients individualized attention. Dr. Lamberts states that having “a much better relationship with my patients was enough of a salve to put up with small balances in my bank accounts.”
  2. Get your staff to share your vision. DPCs tend to have smaller staffs, as the need for administrative help is reduced. With a smaller staff, it is actually easier to ensure that everyone shares the same vision. When your staff has that same vision and purpose in mind, “you not only have less to worry about, but you have a huge ally as you build your practice.”
  3. Set your prices right. Ironically, DPCs that fail early on tend to charge too much. The fear of not having enough income to sustain the practice may cause the independent physician to try to generate more cash flow too quickly and that will backfire. Dr. Lamberts advises DPC providers that “the ideal customer is one who has low demand and high satisfaction with the product you offer.”

Finally, Dr. Lamberts says that for the independent physician considering making the move to the DPC model, “there has to be a certain level of belief in what you are doing, as well as a willingness to go through some lean times to find that gold at the end of the rainbow.”