Personal Doctor Patient Relationships Make A Comeback

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Three years ago, two Sarasota physicians launched a specialized medical practice combining their skills and experience in internal medicine and cardiology with an emphasis on the personal doctor patient relationship. These two highly credentialed physicians are demonstrating that traditional medicine is not just a thing of the past. It is alive and well.

Known as concierge or private medicine, this more personalized approach to healthcare has an abundance of benefits. “In the short time since we founded our practice, the healthcare system has continued to change. “What I find is that people have lost, and really miss, the personal relationship they used to have with their doctors,” said Dr. Kenneth Henson. “Patients are looking for the one person they know and trust to be with them and to advocate for them throughout the healthcare process, from office visits and diagnostic studies through hospital stays, and convalescence.”

In an effort to control costs, standard medical care has become constrained by clinical guidelines. These guidelines were never intended as hard and fast rules for every patient, but they are now often administered in that fashion. Concierge medicine allows physicians to tailor decision making to the nuances of an individual patient’s needs.

“Personalized medicine is becoming more and more important as the medical system has become increasingly algorithm driven. Today’s population based guidelines are implemented by a team of physicians, often whom the patient has never met, instead of your own long-standing physician. Poor communication between patients, specialists and hospitalists can prolong or even complicate a hospital admission, often times resulting in duplicate or unnecessary testing. This trend in conventional medicine has prompted patients to consider private care,” said Dr. Stephen Culp. “The specialized practice at Culp-Henson allows for patient’s medical issues to be addressed quickly and monitored closely. Our goal is to minimize hospital admissions and emergency room visits when reasonable. While hospital stays are sometimes necessary, and true emergencies must always be seen in the ER, our specialized training and our experience, as well as the availability of same day testing allows more medical problems to be handled in our office. This is a great advantage when people are juggling complex health problems.”

Dr. Culp and Dr. Henson have board certifications in cardiovascular diseases and internal medicine, and they have practiced together for more than 20 years. Their dual certifications, combined with years of clinical practice expertise, means that they are uniquely qualified to handle a broad range of medical issues within the single practice.

Dr. Henson, who served as Chief of Cardiology for Sarasota Memorial Hospital, received his advanced fellowship training in Interventional Cardiology from Georgetown University following his Cardiology fellowship training at the University of Florida. Following fellowship, Dr. Henson moved to Sarasota, bringing with him new expertise in the developing field of interventional cardiology.

Dr. Culp received his undergraduate degree from Yale University and his medical degree from the University of Vermont. He completed his postgraduate training in Internal Medicine, and Interventional Cardiology at Duke University. He then joined the faculty, working as an Assistant Professor, with a clinical practice at the Duke Private Diagnostic Clinic. Dr. Culp also served as Chief of Cardiology for Sarasota Memorial Hospital and has been honored by his peers as a Castle-Connelly Top Doctor for 12 consecutive years.

The level of service provided by the two physicians at Culp-Henson is enhanced because of the way concierge or private medicine is structured. Patients pay a flat fee annually for care, which in the Culp-Henson practice covers both cardiology and internal medicine services.

The physicians limit the number of patients within the practice to facilitate easy access to a physician in the office or by phone. Furthermore, this allows flexible scheduling, unhurried office visits, and eliminates a need for nurse practitioners or physician assistants. The doctors generally call patients directly with test results. “We work hard to eliminate barriers between us and our patients. When people have access to a doctor, small problems can be treated promptly so they stay small,” Dr. Henson said. “In addition, insurance coverage for preventive care is becoming more limited, but we have the staff and equipment to do preventive testing ourselves. Small problems left untreated can become big, so we take a more aggressive approach in early detection.”

The annual fee encompasses comprehensive cardiac testing not typically performed in a concierge practice. With half of all Americans developing heart disease in their lifetimes, the practice is well suited to performing the screening tests and cardiovascular disease management that their patients may need. Cardiac services available in the office include stress testing, vascular ultrasound imaging, echocardiography, ambulatory heart rhythm monitoring, anticoagulation regulation, and pacemaker/defibrillator checks. For insurance reasons, most medical practices limit testing to only one test per day. At Culp-Henson, multiple tests can be done in one day so patients don’t have to wait for results. “We streamline care, avoid duplication, and give patients back the gift of time,” Dr. Culp said.

This combination of primary and cardiac care is especially beneficial for older patients, or patients dealing with several different medical issues, who like the idea of streamlining their care. For these patients, multiple health issues can be addressed in one office by physicians who know them well. They benefit from working with physicians who share their goal of maintaining an independent lifestyle.

As the practice has evolved over the past several years, it has attracted increasing numbers of younger patients. These patients are interested in preventive care and benefit from flexible scheduling and convenience. Many of these patients have hectic work schedules. For active professionals and road warriors, the convenience of being able to schedule appointments on short notice and on “their schedule” is the key to staying healthy.

“Our patients travel extensively, and we enjoy counseling them with regard to travel immunizations, disease prevention, and the management of their health conditions while abroad,” said Dr. Culp. “We offer the ability to communicate with us while out of the country, and may even prescribe medications with guidance on appropriate use for travel related illness.”

Many patients are seasonal residents, and their care is coordinated by Culp-Henson year-round. Both physicians have been in practice for more than 20 years and have developed connections through their academic and training activities. Therefore, they have an extensive network of physicians to whom they can refer when patients are out of this area. International seasonal residents like Culp-Henson’s model of concierge medicine because of its comprehensive nature, defined costs, and ease of access.

To accommodate the growing practice, much of which has been by word of mouth from patients and other physicians, Culp-Henson moved earlier this year to a spacious, modern new office at 1250 S. Tamiami Trail, close to Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Drs. Culp and Henson also attribute the growth of their practice to a loyal, experienced staff, who enjoy their personal connection with patients. Most staff members have worked at Culp-Henson for more than 10 years. “Hearing a friendly voice that you know over the phone, and knowing that they know you and care for you is so important when you are concerned about your health,” Dr. Culp said.

Although the practice is busy, the two physicians enjoy supporting the community. Both doctors volunteer by providing care to less privileged members of the community, and the practice also supports community activities, including co-sponsorship of the Ringling College Library Association’s Town Hall Lecture Series.

The focus at Culp-Henson is always on the patient. “Dr. Culp and I are closely engaged with our patients.  We are accessible, vigilant and proactive with their health issues,” Dr. Henson said.  “We want people to know that traditional medicine is still alive.  Patient’s obtain peace of mind in knowing that if they get sick, or have a problem and are frightened, they will be able to reach a doctor, and we’ll always be there when they need us.”

With the complexities of the healthcare system and so much conflicting information today, it can be overwhelming and confusing for people who are trying to decide what to do and whom to trust in a medical situation. “We personalize each patient’s care. Patients understand that we are involved and have their best interests at the forefront,” Dr. Culp said. “People feel cared for and secure. It gives them a sense of comfort.”

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