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Club M.D.

Two entrepreneurs bring the first doctor-on-demand medical practice to Richmond.


The first was a patient he'd known for a long time, and she had listed "stress" as the reason for the visit. Mumper steeled himself. He knew that word often signaled a traumatic event — and sure enough, she told him that her husband had left her.

Mumper looked at the woman. She needed counseling, care and reassurance. And, he realized, "I probably have five minutes to spend with this person." At that moment, he says, something "hit me in the face." Seeing 35 patients per day, along with taking an average of 50 calls daily from worried clients, was overwhelming him. He excused himself, vented to his partner and wished, not for the first time, that he could escape.

That evening, he found a way.

Mumper received a call from Linda Nash, a local businesswoman who requested a meeting with him to discuss a medical model entirely new to Richmond. He agreed. "It was the night for me to receive that phone call," he now says.

Nash and her business partner, Tom Blue, were looking for a doctor to help start a cooperative medical practice in Richmond, in which people could become the exclusive — and well-treated — patients of a general practitioner for an annual fee.

Similar practices have sprung up across the country in the last five years and recently started in Norfolk and Northern Virginia. Nash and Blue were convinced that Richmonders, too, had become fed up with average 68-minute waits to see a doctor who has only 10 minutes to give you.

Mumper listened to the pitch. If he signed on, his total number of patients would drop from an overwhelming 3,000 to only 600. He would be able to spend as much time as necessary with individuals and develop personalized health plans. "Truly," he thought, "this is going to allow me to do what I want to do, which is: take good care of patients."

In turn, Mumper had what Nash and Blue were searching for: extensive experience in clinical research, as well as in treating conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, and a gleaming reputation after 16 years of practice in Richmond.

The doctor agreed to start the new practice, but not without some agonizing, he says. He was reluctant to leave his longtime patients, but he knew they'd be in good hands with his partners. And on Nov. 1, he wrote to all those he'd treated to tell them about his new plans. Now he, along with Nash and Blue, are getting ready to launch PartnerMD in February.

What will Mumper's patients get? The biggest attraction, Blue says, is probably the most basic: convenient access. On-time appointments, easy scheduling, even house calls in case of an emergency. "Imagine having your doctor's direct cell phone number," Blue says.

Mumper will also give each patient a comprehensive, hour-long physical in which he'll ask not only about medical history but also about lifestyle, family history and concerns for the future. He'll develop a detailed health plan, covering diet, exercise and daily routines. Sounds very posh-health-club — which is why cooperative medical practices are sometimes called "boutique" or "concierge" medicine. But personalized help is essential, Mumper says.

As an example, he cites his perpetual battle to help the many smokers in his practice to quit. He typically has only three minutes to tell them about options to help them stop — and then after each appointment, he says, he'll look through his office window and see the patient smoking on the sidewalk outside.

A month ago, Mumper says, a woman who had smoked for 40 years came into his office with bronchitis for the sixth time this year. He couldn't take any more. Listen, he told her, "for the next two weeks, I'm going to call you every day to see if you're smoking." He did. And for five weeks now, she's been off cigarettes.

Doctor and patient must work as a team, he says. "If you're accountable to each other, things will happen."

Soon, PartnerMD will begin accepting patients, who can expect to pay $1,600 annually per individual, $2,500 per couple and a $500 extra per child. Not cheap — but "pricewise, this service is not engineered for the rich," Blue maintains. Other cooperative practices charge up to $20,000 per year. Most major health plans will cover the doctor's services, he explains, and the annual fee is the price of convenience. It's like any other expense in life, adds Nash — if you prioritize health, you can afford it.

There are five groups PartnerMD expects to be most interested in the service, Blue says. Two are easy to guess: "people for whom convenience is paramount," such as attorneys and executives, and older patients whose complex health concerns would be best treated by a doctor who's not overworked.

However, Blue says, the service will also be attractive to "the worried well" — those who are in good health, but with a family history of illness who would benefit from Mumper's detailed personal-health plans. Endurance athletes are another targeted group, because they have unusual needs and place higher demands on a doctor's time. And finally, there are those with conditions Mumper specializes in, such as diabetes or hypertension.

The practice will be located in Glen Forest, Blue says, somewhere easily accessible and close to Henrico Doctors' Hospital. And they'll be gathering data on patients in the first few years to see if there is, in fact, "a seriously trackable health benefit" to this new kind of service.

The partners have no doubts, Blue says. He and Nash will be the first to sign up their families, they say. And even before the doors open, he says, they're looking ahead to expanding. "We've already started conversations with doctors two and three." S

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