Chris Habig: Giving Physicians the Keys to the Kingdom with Direct Primary Care

October 27, 2021
Josie Livengood

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For episode five of our podcast, we were joined by Chris Habig, CEO and co-founder of Freedom Healthworks. His company has vowed to put doctors and patients in charge of everyday healthcare. They believe patients should be able to choose the right doctors for them and doctors should be free to practice medicine according to their clinical judgment. They are aiming to change the American healthcare system by making it a transparent, open marketplace. Chris is also the host of his own podcast called Healthcare Americana. So obviously, we had to have him on our show!

Our hosts for this episode, Steven Cutbirth and Josie Livengood, discuss several topics with Chris, including direct primary care, price transparency, and healthcare consumerism.

You can listen to the whole episode here or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you listen to podcasts. If you’re short on time, we’ve included a few highlights from our conversation below:

Steven: “Could you tell us a little bit about the direct primary care or DPC direct care model and how that works? And maybe even how some of that ties back to that old school way of doing medicine?”

Chris: “You know, I always say it's kind of the Norman Rockwell of medicine. This nostalgic image of America and physicians. Rockwell did the drawing of the physician making a house call and putting the stethoscope on the little girl's doll. You just don't see that anymore. Hospitals treat physicians and nurses, APPs, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, they treat them like commodities. Anybody with a white coat and a stethoscope is all the same regardless of personality, regardless of experiences, regardless of education, they're all the same. That is such a perversion of what I consider to be the most competent, highly trained medical service providers in the entire world. Anybody who talks about the American healthcare system is, you know, 13th of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I'm like, ‘We have the best trained physicians, best trained nurse practitioners, and best trained physician assistants out of anybody, hands down. Where they're being constrained is the economic model. What we've done in the traditional insurance model is separate the buyer and the seller of medical services. That's the big problem, right? People like to talk about auto insurance. I've talked about homeowners insurance, but we use health insurance as prepaid healthcare rather than a risk adjusted financial tool. That's what insurance is. And when buyers and sellers become separated, that allows a lot of ways for a lot of people to enter into that relationship. Well, we do on the direct care side is take all that crap out of the middle of it. We say, all right, here's the buyer, you're a patient. Here's the seller. You're a doctor. Doctor posts your prices on the website. Seller agree to do business or. That's really the crux of it. And so within Freedom Healthworks we've really taken the best of a lot of different models out there. We hear about direct primary care, we hear about concierge medicine; they've split. Concierge medicine is when you charge a fee on top of accepting insurance, whereas direct primary care is all cash, no insurance involvement whatsoever. We came across a lot of doctors that will charge hourly and we said, ‘Hey, I don't really like that because that creates barriers.’ We don't want any excuse for somebody to be sick and say ‘I'm going to call my doctor, but it's going to cost me 20 bucks or 25 bucks or $300, whatever it is.’ We wanted people to use their physician like they would a gym membership or even like a Netflix account. So you pay a flat fee and you get a lot of things that are included within your membership to this practice, but it's all you can access primary care. Our biggest challenge has been educating people on what exactly primary care can do for you. Vast majority of Americans, all they need is primary care, but yet we're so conditioned to say, ‘Oh, primary care, I'm just going to see you because I need a referral up to some specialist so that they can make the big bucks and I can pay my insurance, and they’re going to treat me that way.” And that’s just not the case. So we're returning care locally with the DPC model that is more subscription membership based, no barriers whatsoever. You get to see a physician, your physician. And you're going to build that doctor-patient relationship so that when you do see them or call them or text them or video chat they're able to look at something and say, ‘Yeah, something is off here. This isn't what's usually going on.’ And the relationship is key within that patient experience.”

Josie: “I was wondering if there was any defining moment or experience you had that made you feel fed up with the American healthcare system that kind of inspired Freedom Healthworks?”

Chris: “My mom one Sunday dinner looked at my grandmother and said, ‘Nanny you don't look like yourself. Something's wrong. Are you feeling okay?’ And she's like, ‘Well, I'm a little tired. You know, I think it's a cold or whatever.’ And my mom said, ‘Why don't you come to the office tomorrow? I'm going to see you.’ So she came in, found out that she took the wrong pill. She took too much blood thinner. She was hemorrhaging. That type of relationship with the physician, to be able to look at somebody and say, ‘Something's off. I'm not sure what's going on here but you don't look like yourself,’ that saved her life. Gave her five more years. 

But it doesn't end there. So they rushed her into the hospital to get her admitted. The hospitalist there, who I'm sure is phenomenal but just rushed on time, looks at the chart, doesn't even look at her age or that she has osteoporosis, and says, ‘Oh, let's put her on some iron supplements and regenerate the red blood cells.’ Well she doesn't have enough bone marrow in her body to be able to regenerate the amount of blood that was lost internally due to the wrong pill. And it's something that happens every single day. And so having a physician advocate in my mother, she went above his head, which I'm not a huge fan of doing that but sometimes it's necessary, especially in medical care. You always have to have an advocate, always have to have a second opinion. So she had gone to medical school with the chief medical officer, and called them up and said, ‘This lady needs a blood transfusion.’ And sure enough, she was about a couple of pints low. Did the transfusion and she was out of the hospital two days later. Where the original hospitals and medical advice would have been, she would have been dead at that point. And that was really kind of the aha moment, you know? The idea hits you in the face, like a wet newspaper and a windy day, and that's the one you want to pursue.”

To hear the whole conversation, click here for the full podcast episode. You can also hear more from Chris by following him on Twitter at @CDHabig. You can also check out Freedom Healthworks’ website and Twitter, and the Healthcare Americana podcast.

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Learn the best strategies and tips for growing your members while keeping costs low.

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Discover what health plan members had to say about the value of patient advocacy in our survey.

Download Healthcare Consumerism 101: A Playbook for Health Plans

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