New Lawrence doctor bringing innovative approach to old-fashioned family medicine
- on November 13, 2011
There’s a new doctor in town who wants to bring back old-fashioned family medicine with a 21st Century twist.
Not only will he make house calls and hospital visits day or night, but he will see patients via the Internet.
However, he won’t accept any health insurance or third-party plans. Instead, he’s going to charge fees for services. Heck, he’s even willing to barter.
Thirty-year-old Ryan Neuhofel describes himself as a simple doctor who probably has a romanticized view of health care.
“It’s basically me having a relationship with my patients and being up front and honest with no barriers and me trying to do what’s best for my patients as opposed to trying to manage an army of coders and billers,” he said.
Neuhofel, who prefers to be called Dr. Neu, plans to open his family practice NeuCare Family Medicine on Nov. 28 inside the Medical Arts Building at 346 Maine, across from Lawrence Memorial Hospital. He’s accepting patients and construction is under way at his clinic.
Last week, Neuhofel provided a tour of the clinic and then answered questions about himself and his practice during a two-hour interview.
Who is this guy?
Neuhofel grew up in Altoona, a small town with a population of about 500 people in southeast Kansas, and then he went to Friends University in Wichita on a track scholarship. He jokes that his plan was to play video games and run track.
He didn’t decide to pursue medical school until his sophomore year in college after participating in a summer scholarship program when he followed a family doctor in Fredonia.
“He was an old-fashioned country doctor. He owned a farm and would sell a cow and then in the middle of the night go see his patients. He was just such a fascinating character and that’s what got me thinking,” Neuhofel said.
Neuhofel earned a master’s degree in public health at Kansas University Medical Center, where he finished his residency in June. He received his medical degree from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.
Since then, he’s been moonlighting in emergency rooms and preparing to open his practice — something that has been more than three years in making.
He’s also a husband and father. He married his high school senior year prom date, Andi, who is a pharmacist, and they have a 2-year-old son, Lincoln, and a 7-month-old daughter, Elsie.
He decided to open a practice in Lawrence for several reasons. The couple are huge KU fans. He held up his hand and squeezed his index finger and thumb together until the were about an inch apart. “Since I’ve been about this tall, I’ve wanted to play basketball at KU,” he said, with a smile. It also helps to have family nearby.
He picked a town where he believes people are open-minded and open to innovative ideas.
“I think, in general, people are willing to try something new and willing to think outside the box,” he said. “I’m not sure there’s a better place, especially in Kansas but maybe anywhere, than here to do that.”
A new concept
Neuhofel strongly believes in continuity of care and believes his system will allow for a long-lasting doctor-patient relationship despite job, insurance or health conditions. That’s because he doesn’t accept any third party health plans.
Instead, he’s charging a monthly fee and a fee for services. The monthly fee is $10 for people ages 29 and under and $20 for those older.
It covers services such as quick phone calls, lab and diagnostic tests, online personal health record, pharmacist counseling and group education classes.
“Paying low monthly fees allows us to perform quick tasks without charging for every bit of advice, refill, Band-aid or lab,” he said.
His fees for services range from $10 for a web visit to $200 for an after-hours visit. Among other charges:
• $20 — 15-minute office visit.
• $50 — nurse home visit.
• $100 — 30-minute house call.
“No decimals. No tricks,” he said, adding that most of the prices are comparable to typical insurance co-payments.
“The great thing is that I’m not choosing or denying patients based on their diagnosis, complexity of care or existing conditions or any of that stuff,” he said.
While he doesn’t accept insurance, Neuhofel does encourage patients to have some type of insurance or plan in case of an unexpected, expensive health event.
“I believe insurance should be used as a financial tool, but not as an all-inclusive means of managing all types of health care,” he said.
He said patients would need to use insurance plans or pay out of pocket for medicines, lab work and hospitalizations. But, his goal is to cut down on the need for any of them.
In addition, Neuhofel said he’s contacting businesses around town to establish a network of services that would be available to his patients at affordable prices. Part of his job, he said, is to find the best and most affordable care for patients.
Neuhofel said he has seen patients who had diabetes but hadn’t been to a doctor in five years because they changed jobs and lost insurance.
“That’s the silliest thing in the world,” he said. “It shouldn’t be expensive or difficult for people to do that.”
Providing health care
What Neuhofel likes most about his model is that he will be practicing medicine. He won’t be managing a business full of codes, billing systems and red tape.
As a medical resident, he sat in meetings at family practices and was astounded at how discussions typically centered on billing systems — instead of how to improve patient care or communication.
“It was always about the business side of it,” he said.
He’s hired Hannah Cooper, a registered nurse, and they will be the only ones working in the clinic along with his wife, who will offer consultation services as needed.
He said in most practices a message goes through a receptionist, to a nurse and to the doctor and then back through the system. That won’t be the case in his office, where he plans to pick up the phone about 50 percent of the time.
He thinks communication and being accessible is crucial to health outcomes.
“Access means you are sick in the morning and you pick up the phone and the doctor says he will see you. That’s access. That’s what people want,” he said.
His office also will be located in the main exam room. He believes that will make patients feel more comfortable because they can have a conversation at his desk instead of sitting on an exam table.
Neuhofel said he can provide a wide variety of primary care for all ages — from broken arms to removing warts; however, he doesn’t deliver babies. He plans to offer educational programs on topics such as diabetes and high blood pressure and yoga sessions.
“My vision is to provide really comprehensive care for people in my office and I think for the vast majority of people I can do everything in my office,” he said.
Neuhofel also is tech savvy. The clinic has a website where the staff can interact with patients and it has a Facebook page. He talked about using the Internet for appointments. For example, he said a friend showed him a rash one time through a webcam and he immediately identified it and prescribed him a course of treatment.
He also thinks phone applications could be useful in managing chronic conditions, like diabetes. He said a patient could log their sugar levels on a phone application and then email them to him.
“This is going to sound cheesy but it’s true, when I took my oath when I entered medical school, I committed to helping people to the best of my ability. I said I’m going to work my butt off and provide the care that I’m trained to do for a long time,” he said. “I found the current system made that oath a lot more difficult to fulfill.”
Neuhofel knows his novel idea isn’t going to be an easy-sell.
“The big challenge in selling this idea is the concept of health insurance and health care have become synonymous. People don’t make a distinction,” he said. “People need to think about health care instead of health insurance to get health care.”
NEW FAMILY PRACTICE
Dr. Ryan Neuhofel plans to open NeuCare Family Medicine on Nov. 28 in the Medical Arts Building at 346 Maine.
There will be an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the practice. The public is invited and there will be light refreshments.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit www.neucare.net or call 727-4131.