In his three decades of Central Coast medical experience, Dr. Dale Ekstrum noticed a shift in the patient-doctor relationship at traditional medical practices.
“Patients as well as doctors have experienced increasing demands, having to do more regulatory work or more electronic records work,” Ekstrum said. “Spending 10 minutes with a patient involves another 20 or 30 minutes in documentation, getting authorizations, and dealing with their medications. What’s been eroded away is the doctor-patient relationship: The time with a patient.”
After years of witnessing a system that forces doctors to take on as many patients as possible, leading all parties to feel rushed, Ekstrum decided to make a change for his patients: A new, Lompoc-based concierge medical practice.
“For the first time I had hope when I considered the concierge model,” Ekstrum said. “I could have a smaller patient slate. I basically make a promise to my patients: If you join this practice, this allows you to be assured that you’ll have personalized care, and you’ll have my time. You’ll be able to contact me at any time, day or night.”
Concierge medicine—or as Ekstrum also calls it, personalized medical care—means that doctors limit their number of patients in order to ensure that patients get sufficient time at their visits, virtually never have to sit in a waiting room, and can even get same- or next-day appointments. In exchange for these promises, the doctor charges a monthly or annual fee to patients in the practice.
“It’s basically one-twentieth of what I had before,” Ekstrum said of his number of patients. “I’m able to spend an hour or an hour and a half with a patient if they need it, and have no waiting time. I call my front room a ‘reception area’ now: It’s not a ‘waiting room’ any longer.”
Ekstrum said that before he decided to make the leap into his new practice, he was concerned about some of the myths surrounding concierge medicine.
“There’s the idea that it’s a bourgeois practice, a rich person’s practice,” Ekstrum said. “It’s surprisingly not that. … It’s a small investment in your health. When people actually call and get the rates, they’re pleasantly surprised.”
Depending on whether it’s an individual or an entire family, Ekstrum’s rates are between $140 to $180 a month. The fee doesn’t take the place of insurance. It guarantees that patients will have little to no wait time, much longer appointments that can be scheduled the same or next day, as well as what Ekstrum said is a far more personalized and proactive approach to health care.
“I don’t wait for them to get sick,” he said. “I come up with a plan to keep them in their optimal health.”
For Ekstrum’s patient Santa Maria resident Chad Smith, having that guarantee is a huge relief.
“I’m 83 years old and have some health problems. To be able to call a doctor and get immediate contact means a lot to me,” Smith said. “With going to doctors, if you call up and want an appointment, it’s two weeks, three weeks, a month before you get an appointment. At my age and all, if I have a problem, I want someone right now. The concierge program gives that.”
A 2018 study published by the American Journal of Managed Care found that high-touch care—another name for personalized medical care—leads to better outcomes and overall lower costs in the senior population. These findings are attributed to the practice’s preventative, rather than reactive, approach to health care.
To learn more about Ekstrum’s new practice, call (805) 741-5999 or visit daleekstrummd.com. Dr. Ekstrum’s practice is located at 217 W. Central Ave., suite A, in Lompoc.
• The Santa Maria Noontimers Lions Club presented a $1,000 check to the Santa Barbara County Foodbank recently. This gift will be directed toward providing food for those in need at the North County Foodbank. According to a press release announcing the donation, The Lions Club also donated to Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army, Community Partners in Caring, and other organizations, “to assist the local community during the current coronavirus pandemic.” The Noontimers are one of several Lions Clubs in the Santa Maria area.
Staff Writer Malea Martin wrote this week’s Spotlight. Send tips to [email protected].