RICHLAND — A new kind of clinic coming to the Tri-Cities next year could make shopping for health care more like dropping in at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Qliance, a Seattle-based for-profit company, plans to bring a clinic to the area that would charge patients a monthly membership fee, and for that fee allow them to drop in to see a doctor any time they need -- and as many times as they need -- without paying co-pays or deductibles or having to provide insurance.
Company officials were in Richland on Wednesday to talk about the concept with employees of Kadlec Regional Medical Center, one of dozens of employers who want to offer Qliance memberships as a sponsored health care benefit.
Chapin Henry, Qliance's vice president for business development, said the clinic offers the same services as any other family medicine practice, but with a few exceptions.
Qliance operates outside of the insurance reimbursement system, meaning the clinic doesn't have to employ people just to navigate the labyrinth of health insurance bureaucracy -- figuring out which forms to submit to which company in order to get paid.
It also means doctors and patients are making decisions about care, not insurance companies, Henry said.
The company's clinics limit the ratio of patients to doctors -- in their case 800 patients to a doctor, where most practices see closer to 2,500 patients per doctor -- which means doctors can spend more time with each patient.
Each patient is given a 30-minute appointment, which Henry said allows the Qliance doctors to have in-depth discussions with patients about their medical issues and get at the root of their problems or why they might not be complying with recommended treatments.
It also means fewer patients are sent off to specialists, he said.
For a payment of $44 to $84 a month, depending on the patient's age, Qliance offers unlimited access to urgent care, preventive care such as annual physicals, wellness education, chronic disease management and coordination with specialists as needed.
They also offer in-house X-rays and other tests, minor procedures such as stitches or mole removal, and drawing blood for lab analysis -- all included in the monthly cost.
They also have a lab partner that will perform the analysis for about half of the typical cost if patients pay cash, Henry said.
Jeff Clark, Kadlec's vice president of human resources, said the hospital chose to offer Qliance as an option for its employees to help them save money on their own health costs -- even though Qliance will be one of Kadlec's competitors once the Tri-City clinic opens in the spring.
"We're intrigued with the whole medical home concept," Clark said, referring to the idea that patients manage their health better if they have consistent care through a primary care physician.
"We see this as a little different twist on that," he said. "We think long-term it makes more sense to have primary care physicians incentivized to take care of the population, not to have more patients. There is no question if the model works it will decrease referrals to the hospital for exams, tests and other services. But is it the right thing to do for the patient? We think so."
Clark said by coupling a Qliance membership to cover basic and preventive health care with a high-deductible insurance plan to cover hospitalizations or catastrophes, both Kadlec and its employees should see savings.
Chapin said people can join Qliance even if their employer doesn't offer membership as a benefit. Anyone can join regardless of their health condition.
For information, visit qliance.com or call the member service line at 206-381-3030.