Skipping the line to primary care: Valley doctor, Tenn. physician team up to offer concierge medicine

  • Dr. Kate Atkinson and Sofie Thiel, a medical assistant, in the reception area of Atkinson Family Practice. Thiel will be part of the medical team in the optional concierge program at Atkinson Family Practice. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/27/2023 4:26:06 PM
Modified: 10/27/2023 4:24:43 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Primary care physician Dr. Shayne Taylor doesn’t get to practice medicine the way she wishes or the way she was trained in medical school.

She, like many other primary care practitioners, shuffles through 16 to 20 patients a day and has a patient load of 1,700 at the doctor’s office she works at in Tennessee. With administrative paperwork waiting for her between appointments and answering messages left in a patient portal, Taylor can barely afford to spend 10 minutes with each patient.

If Taylor gives more attention to any one patient, she risks throwing off the rest of the appointment schedule and eating into her personal time or time with family to provide the best possible care.

This type of harried day is not what Taylor envisioned being a doctor would be like.

“It’s not the way we are trained to practice medicine. The way we want to practice medicine and the way we are forced to practice medicine are very different,” Taylor says.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kate Atkinson, owner of Atkinson Family Practice with offices Northampton and Amherst, also finds herself pushed against a wall by the health care system. Doctors are not able to set their own rates because insurance companies decide how much they pay for each primary care visit. Atkinson, a longtime doctor, says insurance companies pay her less today than they did 10 years ago, while the costs to staff her operations — staff, medical supplies, vaccines and insurance — have increased between 30% and 70%.

“So literally nurses in the hospital bring home more money than I do as a full-time family doctor working 70 hours a week, because the only place I can cut is me,” Atkinson said. “I mean, I shouldn’t have 25 years of experience as a board-certified family doctor, working more than full time and not be able to pay myself some months and be feeling so unappreciated and burned out.”

Despite practicing medicine 1,000 miles from each other, Taylor and Atkinson began commiserating about their shared frustrations about primary care doctoring on a physician forum over social media. A short time later, Taylor visited the Valley and pitched an idea that she believed could save both of their practices — concierge medicine, a membership-based type of practice first introduced in mid-1990s.

In general, concierge medicine allows patients more access to a primary care doctor through shorter wait times, longer visits and phone access to a doctor. Patients can schedule a visit with the doctor the day before an appointment, wait five minutes in the waiting room and call a few days after to report any side effects of a new medication. The longer appointments and more frequent visits allow for more effective medical treatment, advocates of the service say.

Taylor and Atkinson batted the idea around before coming to an agreement to start a concierge service at Atkinson Family Practice, with Taylor soon to join Atkinson’s Northampton office as the concierge practitioner.

The new service, which is expected begin on Jan. 2, will offer longer annual visits of between 60 and 90 minutes, with diagnostic and laboratory tests, such as blood work, and health risk assessments.

In addition to the increased accessibility and phone access to Taylor, patients will receive a wellness package with a menu of in-house services, such as physical therapy, sports medicine, massages and stress management techniques. A certified health coach will meet with patients annually to discuss health goals and ways to achieve these goals.

Atkinson stresses that the concierge practice is optional for her current patients, and that she will continue to perform traditional family medicine and to take MassHealth insurance. Patients who want to try the new service out will pay $3,000 a year, and new patients will pay $3,500. This fee does not replace insurance, and patients will need to pay out-of-pocket fees for visits with Taylor, hospitalizations and specialists both within and outside of the wellness package. 

Taylor believes this new service will allow her to spend more time with patients. Instead of seeing 20 people per day, she anticipates that number dropping to as low as five. She has noticed the difference in the quality of care and work-life balance of colleagues and patients who use concierge medicine.

“The stresses and burnout of primary care are really real, and practicing medicine with less patients to care for and more time just really sounded like an appealing way to stay invested in primary care,” Taylor said.

Atkinson and concierge medicine administrator Adriana Piantedosi said wait times for patients who sign up with the service will go down.

“There are people who really hate having to wait for appointments,” Atkinson said. “If you’re a really busy professional person and you really don’t have time to wait 30 minutes for an appointment, there should be minimal to no wait for our patients.”

Atkinson’s concierge package will also offer a menu of in-house wellness services. These practitioners have direct contact with Dr. Taylor, which streamlines the process and facilities a team to help a person achieve their health goals.

“One of the things that is great about AFP is there is this holistic model of incorporating multiple providers who can weigh in, offer expertise amongst their colleagues,” Piantedosi said.

Atkinson stressed that the concierge practice will help support traditional options, not replace them.

“We’re not kicking anybody out. I mean traditionally when people switch to concierge, whole practices change and kick out their patients,” she said. “OK, we’re not doing that. This is an option for some people to do. And for people who want their appointments on time and want to spend an hour with their doctor and have more direct access to the doctor, even more than what we can provide, that’s what it’s for.”

Emilee Klein can be reached at


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