Dr. Christiane Smith remembers her reaction when she first heard about the concept of direct primary care, in which doctors and patients bypass insurance companies.
"As a physician, I didn't even believe it," she said.
Now she's practicing it herself and says it has brought back to her the joy of being a physician. In direct primary care, patients pay a monthly fee directly to a physician in return for most primary care services, with no co-pays or reimbursements by an insurance company.
"The beauty of it is the simplicity of the thing and getting back to the way medicine is supposed to be, or was," said Smith, owner of Focus Direct Family Medicine.
Smith is a 2002 graduate of Northeast Ohio Medical University and board-certified family physician who moved to the Wichita area nine years ago. She practiced medicine in a traditional setting, then took some time off to start a family before returning to work for another direct primary care practice.
After a year there, she decided to open her own practice, thinking "I can put my own little touch on it." That includes answering the phone herself – there's no receptionist – and a "homey" office filled with children's drawings, couch and yoga mat.
Smith says her pricing typically saves most people money compared with insurance premiums. Her pricing schedule ranges from $30 per month for children up to 18 months old to $80 per month for patients 60 and older. Adults ages 30 to 59 pay $65 per month.
Smith prescribes and dispenses antibiotics and other non-controlled medication from her office for what she says is a fraction of what pharmacies charge. She has an agreement with a medical lab to provide blood tests, X-rays, MRIs and other lab work to patients at a deep discount. Patients are still encouraged to carry insurance for catastrophic and hospital services.
Beyond saving money, Smith says the real benefit of direct primary care is the relationship it allows her to develop with patients, who can call, text or email her at any time. Smith makes her own schedule and tries to offer same-day appointments whenever possible. She doesn't try to rush patients through.
“I'm a talker," Smith said. "I like to get to know my patients. You're treating people as a whole, not just as a checklist.”
A patient who was seeing Smith on Wednesday said she visits the office a lot so that Smith can help her deal with diabetes. "She always says 'When are you available? When you do want to come?'" the woman said.
"Their time is just as valuable as mine," Smith said of her patients.
Smith recently landed her first corporate account, in which employees of a dental office pay $50 each per month for her services. She's planing to start "education nights" in which she invites patients to learn about fitness, healthy cooking, stress management and other topics.
"If they can relate to me as a person, I can get better results in the long run," she said.
Now you know
FOCUS DIRECT FAMILY MEDICINE
Address: 310 W. Central, Suite M, Andover
Owner: Dr. Christiane Smith