MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) Sartell Family Medicine is part of a growing trend in primary care: reduce healthcare costs and burdensome administrative work by having doctors work directly with patients. It doesn’t accept insurance, and therefore it doesn’t have to go through it.

Direct Primary Care (DPC) practices instead come with a monthly membership fee. Sartell’s is $80 per individual, or $300 per family. The membership covers unlimited doctor checkups, urgent care-type treatments, vaccines and other relatively simple procedures. Patients can also get house calls for an additional $300 per hour.

“It reminds me of the old local doctor,” said Sue Carlson, a patient at Sartell Family Medicine. “You know, [the doctors who] knew you, they knew your kids, they knew what’s going on and would come to your house… taking a step back to the old time.”

Procedures are either included in the monthly membership or they cost an extra fee, listed online. Examples include X-rays for $61, an electrocardiogram for $15 and a cost for $30.

“It’s all listed right there,” said patient Josh Dvorak. “I can see the cost, I know how much it’s going to cost me ahead of time. It doesn’t go off into insurance land and then come back as, you know, a giant figure.”

The other main benefit serves the physician. Dr. Cody Wendlandt started Sartell Family Medicine in 2018. He got burnt out from the traditional model because doctors essentially get paid by the number of patients they see. Like so many others in his specialty, Dr. Wendlandt had 20, sometimes 30 appointments a day.

“The panel size was 2,000-3,000 patients. How are you expected to know and remember everything that’s wrong with each individual patient?” Wendlandt said. “How are you expected to do a good job when you have to see a new patient every 15 minutes, and then [spend] time after the clinic doing burdensome documentation and paperwork?”

That sentiment is growing across the country, as more clinics adopt a pure or hybrid DPC practice. However, it has its downsides.

DPC does not replace insurance. Wendlandt estimates 80% of his patients are insured, and says he reminds the uninsured that Sartell does not provide emergency or specialty care.

For some people, the extra $80 monthly fee might not be worth it on top of an insurance premium. Wendlandt finds the patients who typically come to him have high deductible plans and use Sartell to help ease out-of-pocket expenses.

Another downside: Sartell Family Medicine cannot see Medicare or Medicaid patients because both require clinics to accept Medicare or Medicaid as a form of payment.

Christiane Cordero

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