As physicians seek innovative practice models, one that is gaining ground is for practices to contract with patients to pay directly for some or all services—often called cash-only, retainer, boutique, concierge, or direct primary care or specialty care practices.
Such descriptions do not reflect the variability found in practices. For the purposes of this paper, the American College of Physicians (ACP) defines a direct patient contracting practice (DPCP) as any practice that directly contracts with patients to pay out-of-pocket for some or all of the services provided by the practice, in lieu of or in addition to traditional insurance arrangements, and/or charges an administrative fee to patients, sometimes called a retainer or concierge fee, often in return for a promise of more personalized and accessible care. This definition encompasses the practice types previously described.
The move to DPCPs is based on the premise that access and quality of care will be improved without third-party payers imposing themselves between the patient and the physician. Yet concerns have been raised that DPCPs may cause access issues for patients who cannot afford to pay directly for care.
This ACP position paper, initiated and written by its Medical Practice and Quality Committee and approved by the Board of Regents on 25 July 2015, assesses the impact of DPCPs on access, cost, and quality; discusses principles from the ACP Ethics Manual, Sixth Edition, that should apply to all practice types; and makes recommendations to mitigate any adverse effect on underserved patients.