From dream to reality: How Christian Healthcare Centers' MemberCare is working
Mark Blocher · May 29, 2018
Editor’s Note: In March 2015 we announced that three Samaritan members in Michigan were launching a Direct Primary Care ministry called Christian Healthcare Centers. This article gives an update on CHC.
Christian Healthcare Centers, a ministry that had been envisioned for years, became a reality on July 5, 2017.
The first patient, a 60-something grandmother complaining of fatigue, persistent cough and chest discomfort, was seen by Dr. Jeff Woo, a Samaritan member and internal medicine physician. He suspected pneumonia, so a chest X-ray was performed, revealing she did indeed have pneumonia. After completing a full exam, praying with her and asking God to provide healing as He willed, Dr. Woo escorted her to the checkout desk, where she received the appropriate antibiotic and scheduled a follow-up visit.
When she asked about the cost of the services provided, she learned they were all included in her CHC MemberCare subscription, a savings of over $300 compared to the cost in most doctor’s offices. Christian Healthcare Centers uses a monthly membership fee instead of billing insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. For the cost of a cell phone bill, members receive virtually unlimited access to exceptional medical services provided by dedicated Christian practitioners.
Health care never felt more missional as the prayers, hard work, financial contributions and God’s provision resulted in the opening of CHC, an innovative twist on the quickly growing Direct Primary Care movement. Although there are nearly 1,000 DPC practices in the nation, some led by other Samaritan members, CHC is the first distinctively Christian not-for-profit DPC to provide a comprehensive array of integrated services under one roof. In addition to typical preventative, acute and urgent care office visits for children and adults, services include in-office laboratory services, in-office prescription medication dispensary, X-ray, in-house counseling to provide members with Biblically based spiritual care and a personalized wellness program.
Two important convenient and cost-saving features of the CHC model are Virtual Primary Care and Health Services Navigation.
Virtual Primary Care is a mobile-first telemedicine feature where members have 24/7 access to their doctor for medical needs that may not require a trip to the Center. After the member has received a full in-office health assessment, they can access their doctor and medical information through Virtual Primary Care from a mobile device anywhere in the country to seek medical attention for non-emergency situations. Mothers with small children love this feature because it often means not having to pack up the entire family to make a trip to the doctor. It also serves people living at significant distances away from the Center. CHC already has members as far away as Washington, D.C., Thailand, Central America, and Guam.
The Health Services Navigation feature helps members navigate the medical maze by giving them access to specialists, diagnostic services, physical therapy, chiropractic care, hospital care, and many other ancillary medical services at discounted rates without having to make all the phone calls to schedule appointments or negotiate discounts. CHC staff does this on the member’s behalf.
Making health care 'Christian'
The opening of Christian Healthcare Centers marked a new day for health care by offering care that is thoroughly Christ-centered, whole-person focused, and Christian in every way. What makes health care “Christian” is not only its unwavering commitment to spiritual care and a life-affirming ethic, but also its commitment to provide compassionate, professionally competent wellness services that are consistent with the values embodied in the person and redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Great Physician. The Centers’ philosophy of health care and wellness begins with the principle “Christ heals, we help.”
CHC’s creation also reflects an urgent need to restore a Biblical and moral foundation to the practice of medicine and to call the Church to return to the forefront of health care. As our culture becomes increasingly hostile to Biblical values, Christian doctors and nurses need a safe harbor where they can openly practice medicine according to their faith, providing (or not providing) services that are medically sound and conform to Biblical teaching. Christian patients need a safe harbor where they know the care they receive respects their beliefs and values. Christian parents need access to medical care that respects their right to make decisions about vaccinations and sex education and that cooperates with parents to affirm Biblical norms about human sexuality, marriage, and family.
Over 1,200 people have joined CHC as of May 1, 2018, including more than 400 Samaritan Ministries members. Applying Biblical principles of stewardship to health care, CHC saved its members over $240,000 in out-of-pocket expenses in just the first eight months. Membership continues to grow as more people discover health care that is thoroughly Christian, affordable, and accessible. The CHC staff includes three physicians, a part-time general surgeon, a physician assistant, a nurse practitioner, a counselor, and several nurses and medical assistants.
Patient-focused, not payment focused
Christian Healthcare Centers is patient-focused, not payment-focused. Quality health care does not have to be expensive to be good, but it should be accessible when the patient needs it. This is why Virtual Primary Care is so important, because it gives people access to their doctor no matter where they are in the U.S. or overseas. Through timely appointments that are scheduled for 30 to 90 minutes, CHC stresses the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship. Christian health care cares for the whole person, with spiritual wellness as its foundation.
Not only does CHC save its members money, it is also a medical ministry that enhances their quality of life.
One recent example is a 50-something female patient struggling with Crohn’s disease. The cost of her treatment infusions to control flare-ups was in the thousands of dollars. By her own account, life was “miserable.” Her initial exam at CHC, like all office visits, included some questions about her spiritual life, her marriage and family, and other aspects of life important to her. She revealed concerns that caused her a lot of stress. Since stress can aggravate Crohn’s, her CHC doctor asked if she would be interested in meeting with Lisa Bowman, CHC’s counseling coordinator. In just two sessions, this patient experienced a substantial decrease in her symptoms and reported a quality of life better than she had experienced in nearly 10 years.
By integrating counseling with medical care, CHC’s Christian providers have led people to faith in Christ, prevented suicides, reunited married couples, resolved depression, helped teens struggling with sexual issues, and brought Christ’s freedom for those dealing with pornography addiction.
Christian Healthcare Centers also offers educational workshops on a wide range of wellness-related topics. For example, CHC hosted a well-attended workshop for parents on Internet safety for their children and workshops dealing with ethical issues related to medical-assisted procreation technologies, genetic testing, biotechnology, and end-of-life. In February, over 400 home-schooled children and their parents participated in “Journey through the Heart,” a seminar which taught about the human heart through hands-on demonstrations. Additional educational events are planned for the future.
Christian Healthcare Centers plans to open more centers in Michigan and in other states. As God provides opportunities, funding, and personnel, additional services will be added (e.g., dental, vision, bundled-price surgery). The CHC board and staff is very grateful for the support provided by Samaritan Ministries as we work together to create a distinctively Christian health care system.
Member Mark Blocher is the president/CEO of Christian Healthcare Centers (chcenters.org). He served as professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Cornerstone University for 15 years. He is the author of The Right to Die? Caring Alternatives to Euthanasia and Vital Signs: Decisions that Determine the Quality of Life and Health.