Even before the pandemic struck, ailing Angelenos hated cooling their heels in waiting rooms filled with wheezing kids and crappy magazines, which is why Abe Malkin, founder of Concierge MD LA, always made house calls to his well-heeled patients. Since 2016, Malkin and his team have been going into homes from Pasadena to the South Bay, administering everything from echocardiograms and blood tests to botox injections and “home detox services” (for celebrities wary about being spotted going into and out of addiction treatment centers). Malkin has made house calls on movie sets and to music festivals, to mansions and high-rise offices. One time, he was called to an iconic Southern California arena (he won’t say which) to give a strep swab to a musician who was about to go onstage; another time, he was flown to Europe via private jet to treat a patient and escort them back home to L.A. Instead of you making time for the doctor—scheduling an appointment for a month down the road, sitting in traffic for hours—Malkin makes time for you. “We try to work seamlessly into your day,” he says.
Concierge medicine has been around L.A. since 1996. With its promise of 24/7 VIP care and preferential access to the area’s top doctors and specialists, concierge care is the medical option of choice for those who put a premium on health care—and can afford the often hefty annual membership fees, which can range upward of $25,000. Many concierge services are tied to some of the city’s largest and most prestigious hospitals, like UCLA’s Comprehensive Health Program, which offers the Executive Physical Plus, an annual checkup on steroids that includes everything from stress EKGs and colonoscopies (if needed) to town-car pickups and drop-offs or private suites at Santa Monica’s Providence Saint John’s Health Center. Others are small boutique affairs. There are places where one can get routine lab work and CT scans, hormone replacement therapy, and “microgold facials.” This being L.A., there are practices that offer cast and contestant physicals for series and reality shows. One of the biggest selling points of concierge medicine is the promise of instant care, because one thing clients hate to do is wait.
“Whether you’re a busy executive or an actor or an athlete with a busy travel schedule, it shouldn’t have to be a burden for you to sit and talk to your doctor,” Malkin says.
When COVID-19 hit, however, waiting for medical care suddenly became a major concern for just about everybody. What were once mere inconveniences—getting stuck in a waiting room or struggling to get an appointment—were now alarming propositions. Who knows what that wheezing kid has or whether he might give it to you? Nobody wanted to be anywhere near a waiting room, let alone an ER. And with a mysterious pandemic on the rise, waits for anything—COVID tests, at first, and then later, the vaccine itself—seemed intolerable. In just a few months, what had previously seemed a frivolous luxury began to make a lot more sense to those with the means to pay for it.
Over the past year, the interest in concierge medicine has exploded, whether from current clients now searching for tests and vaccines or from potential clients concerned about getting any medical care at all at a time when hospitals and ICUs across the state are operating at maximum capacity.
“In the beginning, when people were scrambling to get COVID tests, the patients I had a relationship with were able to get tested much more quickly,” Malkin says. “Not so much because they were paying for tests but because I took the time to prioritize them and make sure they got them.”
His patients were so eager to know their viral status that Malkin made monthly
COVID tests, along with his practice’s standard annual physical and monthly house calls, a part of his “premium” and “elite” service packages, which range from $6,000 to $9,000 a year.
“Some of my patients get tested more often than that,” he says, “but I wanted to establish what I thought was a smart and reasonable baseline.”
At Sollis Health, a concierge medical center in Beverly Hills, cofounder Ben Kruger has taken the standard no-wait concierge model and added urgent- and emergency-care capabilities.
“Our centers can handle 95 percent of what you might see in an emergency room,” he says. Sollis has CT scanners and 3T magnetic resonance imaging machines—along with the emergency staff to go with them. While a typical ER might see 300 or more people in a day, at Sollis, the number is closer to 10 or 15, a plus for physicians like Scott Braunstein, the facility’s medical director and longtime emergency-room doctor at Cedars-Sinai. “I think what attracted Dr. Braunstein to our service is the ability to spend more time with patients and to provide more personalized care,” Kruger says.
What this all means in practical terms is that if you slice open your thumb and head to Sollis, you’ll be tended to by someone the moment you walk in the door. That sort of service stands in sharp contrast to to the triage situation one encounters in the typical crowded ER, where you’ll be queuing up behind the woman going into cardiac arrest or the guy with the gaping chest wound. Whatever preceded your trip to the ER is bad enough, says Kruger, without the ER itself adding to the nightmare.
“If you cut yourself in the middle of the night, you know you’re gonna have a bad night,” he says. “I just felt there had to be a better way.”
At Sollis, that better way includes plush robes, fancy menus, and Taschen art books. If the place looks like a boutique hotel, that’s intentional, says Kruger.
“It’s not a med spa,” he says. “But we believe you can pair high-quality medicine with hospitality. We look at everything from the patient’s perspective.”
Those patients include executives and pro athletes and celebrities like Sienna Miller and Chris Rock, the sorts of folks one might see at, say, the San Vicente Bungalows, which offers its members a discounted membership to Sollis; or at a W Hotel, whose South Beach property recently opened a Sollis pop-up.
“We really look to great hotels and hospitality experiences to learn what they do well and apply that to health care,” says Kruger.
At Remedy Place, a “social wellness club” in West Hollywood, Jonathan Leary provides concierge wellness treatments in a communal, clublike setting for those who’d rather not endure their ice baths and IV treatments alone. At the private, booze-free space, couples and groups can “enjoy” everything from infrared saunas and cryo chambers to hyperbaric chambers (the oxygen-therapy machines of choice for folks like LeBron James and Justin Bieber) and vitamin injections.
“I wanted to create an entire club that was temptation- and toxin-free,” says Leary. In some cases, couples make a date night of lymphatic massage treatments, which involve “something like a blood pressure cuff” followed by a massive purge of waste products. After partnering on events with companies like Nike (“They were flying down teams every other week from Portland”) and organizations like the Cannes Film Festival, Leary plans to open a new Remedy Place at the recently renovated Century Park Plaza. COVID, of course, has put many things on hold for now: mixologists, athletic clubs, and live jazz, for instance. But the hyperbaric chambers and vitamin IVs are good to go.
“You can do everything except the events and classes,” says Leary.
The pandemic has affected many aspects of concierge medicine, both for good and ill. While the thought of getting sick or going to crowded hospitals has driven many to concierge care, it’s also encouraged unscrupulous folks of every stripe to try to use the services to cut the line for vaccines. To be fair, the distribution system worldwide has been problematic, with rich countries getting access to vaccines before poor ones; ineligible young Floridians dressing up as “grannies” to get second doses; Laker great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suggesting that NBA players “jump the queue”—albeit to promote vaccine awareness and acceptance; and people volunteering at food banks and hospitals to get shots. So it should probably come as little surprise that folks used to receiving VIP care—and paying handsomely for it—might expect preferential treatment.
It should probably come as little surprise that folks used to receiving VIP care might expect preferential treatment.
In February, San Francisco-based One Medical allowed ineligible individuals with ties to the concierge medical company’s leadership to jump the line ahead of high-risk patients. The news came as little surprise to many; indeed, for months, patients have been hitting up their concierge doctors for tests and vaccines, in some cases offering bribes for early access to shots. Even before vaccines had been created, concierge doctors were fielding calls.
“Back in March 2020, they were asking me for COVID tests. Then they wanted antibody tests. Then they wanted hydroxychloroquine and Regeneron,” says Malkin. “Everyone understands that there are limited resources and that there are people who need to be prioritized. That being said, within the framework of the rules and regulations, my patients want to get access to care as quickly as possible.”
With nearly every aspect of our lives affected by COVID, health has become utmost in many minds. And at a time when one can’t even go to fancy restaurants or on luxury vacations, why not spend that extra cash on trying to stay alive, or at least healthy?
“For really anyone who is willing to pay more in any sector of their lives—whether it’s the car they’re driving, the clothes they’re wearing, the home they’re living in—that’s what we’re providing, too,” says Kruger. “We’re providing a better experience.”
Malkin agrees. “The cost of concierge medicine is not prohibitively high if you consider what people spend their money on otherwise,” he says. “If you make sacrifices elsewhere in your life, people can certainly afford concierge medicine.”
Malkin also believes that concierge medicine benefits all of us, not just the people getting oxygen treatments in their homes or having their doctor flown to their estate by private jet.
“People may think it’s unfair for some to receive better care than others,” he says. “But, ultimately, keeping people out of the emergency room— treating them early and keeping them from having to get costly medical care—reduces the strain on the medical system,” he says. “And reducing the strain actually allows for more time and energy to be spent on people who need true care in an emergency
Which is where all this began: trying to stay out of a waiting room or ER at all costs.
“They’re not built to provide a quality customer experience,” says Kruger. “Our mission is really to provide the highest quality health care, and we believe it’s impossible to do that without also providing a really amazing health-care experience. We want people to feel that they’re being given the attention they deserve, and that’s impossible in a large medical institution that’s driven by volume rather than by treating the individual.”
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