Jeffrey Esslinger, MD doesn't just think the MDVIP network is a disruptive model — he said it's a sign health care in Bartow County is officially entering the 21st century.
"People need to try a different model of health care," the 48-year-old physician said. "I think most patients are extremely frustrated with the current model. Patients are waiting extensive periods for their office visits ... they're waiting just to get an appointment and then once they get to the doctor's office they're sitting around for anhour or two waiting to be seen."
Don't expect that to be the case at his internal medicine practice in Cartersville. Last November, he became the first Bartow County physician affiliated with the MDVIP network, a national, membership-based model with an emphasis on personalized preventative care.
Founded in 2000, the organization has affiliations with about 900 doctors in 45 states, with an estimated national membership of 300,000 clients.
MDVIP CEO and Chairman Bret Jorgensen said the network aspires to reduce primary care clinics from high volumes to "smaller, more intimate" practices. Whereas many physicians may have thousands of different patients, he said doctors in the MDVIP network rarely see more than 600.
"We try to pivot from sick care, which is what the health care system is focused on, to health care, which hopefully is keeping people healthier," he said.
It's a fairly straightforward system. MDVIP members pay annual fees to see their physicians, which in turn offsets the costs of doctors seeing fewer patients. This allows doctors to spend more time with their clients, who are then provided in-depth wellness exams as part of the network's preventative care packages.
"It's typically an hour to an hour and a half exam," Jorgensen said. "The labs themselves are much broader and more sophisticated."
MDVIP patients don't just have their cholesterol levels examined. They get measurements of their particle counts, soft plaque and inflammatory markers.
That, in addition to — among other things — nutritional counseling, screenings for disease risks and hearing and vision check-ups.
"This is not just 'can you hear this sound and look at an eye chart?'" Esslinger said. "We're actually doing vision screenings, for example, looking at the neurological components of their vision... that's a really valuable tool that you're not necessarily even going to get at the ophthalmologist office."
It's all part of the program's plan to prioritize patients' own health goals, Jorgensen said. "The doctor can help me formulate a plan for being able to do that ... the wellness exams really give a deeper baseline of all of those things for the doctor and patient to work on to improve health."
Joining the club
Esslinger moved to Cartersville from Atlanta in 2000. He's operated his 300 Courtyard Drive practice for 18 years.
Most traditional practices, he said, are reactive, with doctors spending most of their time proverbially "putting out fires." With so much emphasis on acute problems, he said many physicians never even have the time to practice proactive medicine.
"The services we're providing revolve around prevention and what this kind of program enables doctors to do is not only have the resources to provide preventative care, but have the time to do so," he said. "With all the amenities and things offered through the MDVIP program, with the extensive testing and physical exams, this is just a lot more care than a traditional model can offer."
For example, under the MDVIP program he has access to a body scanner that tells patients not only their body fat and muscle mass, but their water weight and metabolic rate. Having that kind of data, he said, makes it easier to develop personalized weight loss plans with more precise patient instructions.
Then there are the benefits of simply being in the national MDVIP physician network. "It affords me some connections and resources that I wouldn't otherwise have for my practice," he said. "We can share information, we can reciprocate for each other. If I have a patient, for example, who is traveling and gets ill, I can call one of the doctors and get them to see my patient ... it saves them the trouble of going to an emergency room or an urgent care, somewhere where they are not familiar."
Jorgensen said that includes access to some of the most prestigious medical facilities in the nation under MDVIP's Medical Centers of Excellence program. "We have partnerships with most of the leading health institutions around the country around specific disease and illness categories," he said, "say around heart health with the Cleveland Clinic, or cancer working with Memorial Sloan-Kettering and MD Anderson ... we're working with partners like that to get second opinions and allow our doctors to work with some of their experts around helping to guide care."
On top of that, MDVIP offers an online portal that allows its members to access their health records, take assessments, virtually plan meals and confidentially message their physicians.
To join Esslinger's network, prospective patients must pay $1,650 a year. The fee, however, can be paid in installments instead of an upfront sum.
While he does have open slots for his practice, Esslinger said he's striving to limit membership at his clinic to 600 patients.
"The amount of time we spend with each patient is very precious, and we don't want to have so many patients that we infringe upon that time," he said. "Otherwise, we are practicing in the same failed model everybody else is doing."
"We kind of push our growth at a rate that is really more driven by our ability to identify quality physicians who can practice in this model," he said. "So, we don't specifically say we have to go get two doctors in this metro area ... we kind of work the market all the time, so yes, we would expect over time for us to continue to add positions in the state, and in the north metro area."