Dr. Aleea Gupta has been a family physician for almost 20 years. She has practiced in various settings, including a university system, private practice, and most recently at a small urgent care clinic in the Western Suburbs.
“We were doing a lot of really great work in the community, but we had a large patient base without insurance or with a really high deductible. I saw what was happening to those patients. They had too many bills or they were getting denied medical care. And many times, we had to make decisions about people’s health based on what they could pay for. This is the opposite of what you learn in medical school,” Dr. Gupta says. “For me, I felt like it wasn’t the right way to practice medicine.”
“I knew I wanted to do something different,” she adds. “That’s when I found out about direct primary care—a simple, very affordable way for people to see a doctor.”
The direct primary care model, a less expensive type of concierge medicine, is relatively new to the health care space. You pay a membership fee each month, and you can visit a doctor as many times as you want, with no fees for office visits. You get to meet with the doctor directly, every time. The doctor is also available to you via phone calls, text messages, and video chats throughout the month. There’s no billing insurance, and no in-network/out-of-network discussions.
Instead, all fees for special services are clearly defined up front-and at a much lower cost than most clinics or hospitals charge. Any tests that can be run in the office are free—pregnancy tests, strep tests, and blood sugar readings, for example. Anything done outside the office, like labs or X-rays, is considerably less expensive than in traditional offices, sometimes only 10 to 20 percent of the retail price.
“I started investigating this type of practice, and nobody had brought it to the Hinsdale area or anywhere in DuPage County,” she says. So, in July, Dr. Gupta opened her practice, Family First Direct Primary Care, offering patients a different kind of health care option for family medicine.
The services Dr. Gupta offers are the same as what you get in a traditional family physician’s office—preventative care including physicals, mammograms, cancer screenings and skin checks; sick visits for coughs and colds; sprains, strains, cuts and burns; and treatment for heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, back pain, and more.
Dr. Gupta oversees everything in the office, both medical and non-medical, including billing, and overseeing her practice down to the last detail. “The basis of the direct primary care model is to keep overhead down,” she says. “And it’s great, because I get time with my patients again.”
The types of patients that benefit most from direct primary care include people with really high deductibles or catastrophic health insurance, where a standard visit to a doctor for a cold or flu can cost an exorbitant amount out of pocket. It’s also great for busy working parents or professionals who need to see someone quickly and don’t want to wait weeks to see their doctor. It works well for small business owners or anyone who can’t afford health insurance, as well as people who can’t afford to miss work or pay for frequent office visits for chronic conditions.
Dr. Gupta has a network of other direct primary care doctors who cover her during vacations. Plus, she has a group of specialists that she can refer patients to if they need higher level care, who understand the direct primary care model and offer cash pricing when appropriate.
She can see patients of all ages, from babies to seniors. Membership tiers are based on age alone, and not pre-existing conditions. Memberships can be for individuals, families, or small business owners who want to cover their employees. She also has a travel package for people who divide their time between the United States and other countries, or who live out of state for part of the year.
Dr. Gupta points out that our health care system needs improvement, and that she’s trying to provide an option for people who are unhappy with the quality of their medical care or who are falling through the cracks.
“People need to be looked after, regardless of their pre-existing conditions or their financial circumstances. With direct primary care, they get to have more choices and more control over their health care,” says Dr. Gupta. “It’s so exciting to be part of something revolutionary. Having the opportunity to do something that is really changing medicine in this day and age has given me a whole new purpose in my daily life.”