Dr. Christiane Smith, MD, cut the red ribbon at noon on Wednesday, June 14 to commemorate the opening of her new practice, Focus Direct Family Medicine, located at 310 W. Central Ave., Suite M in Andover.
While Focus Direct Family Medicine has technically been open since January of this year, the ribbon cutting ceremony was also in celebration of its six-month mark and the fact that Smith recently joined the Andover Chamber of Commerce.
With Focus Direct Family Medicine, Smith doesn't use the traditional approach to medicine and patient care that is common in most doctors offices; she uses the Direct Primary Care (DPC) model.
"It's transparency, affordability and, I believe, better care," Smith said.
DPC doesn't require health insurance. The patient will pay a monthly membership fee, based on his or her age, to the doctor instead. So, for Smith's office, that's $30 per month for patients 0-18 years old (and half price – $15 per month – for additional children), $45 per month for 19-29 years old, $65 for 30-59 years old and $80 for 60 years old and older. With the membership, a patient can come in for appointments as many times as he or she needs, for no extra cost. Employers can save money on their premiums with the DPC model as well. At Focus Direct Family Medicine, employers pay $50 a month per enrollee.
Whether or not a patient has health insurance, Smith won't bill the insurance either way. Yet, she mentioned that health insurance is good to have when a person would need it for big, catastrophic events.
A patient's membership fee with Focus Direct Family Medicine covers anything Smith can do at her office. That includes stitches, mole removals, EKGs, breathing treatments, skin tag removals, Pap tests, injections and urine tests. Smith has contracted with other places for X-rays, CTs and MRIs. She says that those procedures will still be cheaper through Focus Direct Family Medicine's DPC approach since insurance wouldn't be a middle man. And, because Smith buys medications wholesale, Focus Direct Family Medicine patients usually pay less for them than they would at a pharmacy – while also frequently getting the medications immediately since she would have them right there in her office. A patient would only pay the medication's wholesale price plus a tiny fee. Yet, if a local pharmacy happens to have the required medication at a lower price, Smith will simply send the patient there.
Smith additionally responds to house calls and will visit an in-home patient if needed, with a fee attached. She is currently working with an individual in a nursing home, too. Smith emphasized that the DPC approach she uses with Focus Direct Family Medicine is very flexible.
"I have the time for them; I can be their advocate, you know? I'm in this with you," she said.
There's also little to no wait time involved with many DPC practices. In fact, Focus Direct Family Medicine doesn't even have a waiting room; Smith doesn't need one. Patients can contact her through phone or email and set up an appointment within the next few days, possibly the day-of or the very next day. Many times, Smith can simply talk concerns over with patients through email or phone, and they may not even need to set up an appointment – depending on the issue. The idea is that the doctor is accessible to the patient.
"When you tell people about Direct Primary Care, it almost seems too good to be true. You know, a lot of times, it seems normal to wait for an hour and a half in a waiting room and only see a doctor for five minutes. But it doesn't have to be like that. And that can be surprising to a lot of people," Smith said.
She claims the traditional medicine dynamic that involves insurance companies at almost every turn can muck up the patient-care process.
"[With traditional medicine,] you're under restrictions from insurance companies every five minutes because you're money comes from insurance payments .... So that was pretty unsatisfying because that's not why I went into medicine. I wanted to be more connected with patients," Smith said.
Smith graduated from medical school in 2002 and graduated from residency in 2005, becoming board-certified about the same time she graduated from residency. She has worked in urgent care and at a couple different practices over the years.
"I got my first experience with direct primary care at Atlas," Smith said.
Atlas MD is an office in Wichita that also uses the DPC model. Smith worked there for about a year. There are a couple other offices in and around the Wichita area that use DPC as well.
"So I got into this model, and then I decided to strike off on my own," she said.
Smith's short-term goals are to expand her patient base, get her name and business idea out in the community and spread the word about DPC.
"I will never go back to traditional medicine. I mean, how could I after seeing how it can be with Direct Primary Care?" she said.
Smith's longterm goals are to keep the word going about Focus Direct Family Medicine, grow as a practice and implement lifestyle changes with her patients. She plans to have informative, educational nights in the future on topics such as walking and nutrition-focused grocery shopping.
"Because our lifestyle is our cure or our sickness, really," Smith said.
Eventually, she hopes to have a nurse working with her to do lab work. Until then, Smith sends patients to Affiliated Medical Services (AMS) Reference Lab in Wichita – where the patient will still get Smith's cheaper lab test rate to get their blood drawn. For now, it's just Smith at Focus Direct Family Medicine.
"I want to get back to medicine as it should be – the doctor and patient relationship," Smith said.