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Should I start or join a DPC practice?


As a physician, you have a key role in the delivery of high quality healthcare to your patients. The model that you choose for that care delivery can make a huge difference in your life and career, as well as in the level of satisfaction your patients experience. If you are considering becoming a direct primary care (DPC) doctor, here are some important aspects of the practice model that may influence your decision to start or join a DPC practice.

There are about 1200 DPC practice locations across the US. The concept is increasing in popularity with providers and patients as more practices open each year. In a survey of about 200 direct primary care doctors, published in 2020, it was found that the key motivators for a physician who chose the DPC model over the fee-for-service (FFS) model for providing healthcare were:

  • “Potential to provide better primary care under a DPC model” (96%)
  • “Too little time for FFS visits” (85%)
  • “Too much FFS paperwork to complete” (78%).

Earnings were not a deciding factor, as only 10% of those participating in the survey indicated that the “potential to earn more under DPC” was a motivator.

Benefits of starting your own DPC practice can include a smaller patient panel and more time with each patient, enabling you to develop a higher quality provider-patient relationship. As reported by those direct primary care doctors participating in the survey, you have the opportunity in a DPC model for:

  • Better or much better “overall (personal and professional) satisfaction” (99%)
  • “Ability to practice medicine” (98%)
  • “Quality of primary care” (98%)
  • “Relationships with their primary care patients” (97%).

If you are considering starting a DPC practice, though, you will need to be prepared financially for the difference in the income structure. The DPC model relies almost solely on membership fees, as this type of practice generally does not accept third-party payments. As the survey found, though, most direct primary doctors move to the DPC model because of a desire to practice more patient-centered medicine and not out of financial considerations.

Learn more about how Elation helps you run a highly-efficient, patient-focused DPC practice.

With an average panel size of 445 and an average monthly membership fee of between $65 and $85 per adult patient, you will need to run an efficient practice, particularly at the outset. The average time to fill a target patient panel of about 628 is approximately 21 months. Your overhead costs will be lower, however, as you will not need administrative help for insurance billing and reimbursement, for example.

When you join a DPC practice that is already established, you can avoid some of the start-up challenges. These include educating patients in your existing FFS practice about the benefits of the DPC model. Joining an existing practice enables you to begin providing quality care to those patients who have made the transition, by spending more time with each one and avoiding the worries of insurance approvals for recommended tests and treatments.

While the typical length of an office visit in a traditional FFS practice is between 13 and 16 minutes, in a DPC practice the interaction with a patient averages 40 minutes. The quality of care improves, and the level of patient satisfaction increases with these value-added aspects of healthcare you and your patients will realize when you start or join a DPC practice.