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Monday 17 June 2019
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Dr. Heidi M. Braun, M.D. : Putting Patients First

story by KATRICE WILLIAMS    photos by SHELIA SCOTT
What is the best way to alleviate all the “bureaucratic burdens forced on physicians” by insurance companies and, hence, get back to “putting patients first?” Dr. Heidi Braun, Medical Director of PhoenixDPC (Direct Primary Care), discovered the solution and has made some much needed “radical” changes in the way she practices medicine.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Dr. Braun was raised in Berlin, Germany from age four; she had long been fascinated with the field of medicine and the human body; Dr. Braun always cared about people, thinking that the biggest reward was being able to help others feel better and, in turn, enjoy a better quality of life.
“I’ve always liked people. I had a burning interest for how the body works, how to heal it and for medicine—the science behind it all,” Dr. Braun stated.
She married the love of her life, Oliver Braun, while in Germany. A certified tax accountant who later became a firefighter and EMT, Oliver is truly a versatile professional in his own right. The couple has a son Lucas, 16, and a daughter Sarah, 14.
While in Germany, Dr. Braun received her medical degree from Hannover Medical University. After traveling to America during medical school to do some medical rotations in San Antonio and Birmingham, she was immediately drawn to the medical culture in the United States.
Dr. Braun and Oliver relocated to the states and soon set their sights on Savannah, where she began her residency at Memorial University Medical Center in 2000. Upon completion in 2003, she was privileged to work alongside several noteworthy providers.
Interestingly enough, she was the first physician to practice in Pooler after agreeing to run a local satellite office for a fellow physician in 2006. After a couple of years passed, Dr. Braun decided to open her own practice in Pooler. On January 1, 2008, she opened the doors to Braun Internal Medicine, P.C. Oliver took on the role of practice manager, being responsible for all business and financial affairs. His combined accounting and EMT background allowed him to be a tremendous asset.
For quite some time, Dr. Braun had noticed the heavy burdens and limitations set in place by insurance companies which impacted the way in which she sought to treat her patients. Often, patients were unaware of the total cost of services until after being billed; there was a “big unknown with no predictability and no transparency.” Many insurance deductibles and co-pays seemed to increase as coverage amounts decreased. Uninsured individuals seldom felt they had any options at all.
Still, the traditional system compels doctors to maintain a seemingly unrealistic number of patients in order to coincide with insurance guidelines and receive payment for services rendered. Most insurance-based practices require physicians to maintain a base of over 4,000 total patients; this certainly sacrifices the patient-doctor relationship that is so important to Dr. Braun. Patients are usually allotted 15 short minutes of appointment time; the increased demands on doctors by insurance companies, including heightened, administrative responsibilities like completing “electronic medical records” for each patient during visits, nearly cut that time in half.
“Billing and reporting requirements by insurance companies just rose exponentially, so a doctor is spending upward of 50% more time on documenting than treating; the landscape is so hostile,” Oliver stated.
That said, how many patients can communicate their concerns and have them properly addressed in just over seven minutes or even less? In addition, office wait times are typically longer due to over-scheduling, if patients are even able to receive a timely appointment date without being pushed one or two months out.
“I have always put an emphasis on good quality patient care and patient relationships. I like to give them time; you don’t have that luxury with the current healthcare system. You need to see more and more patients in order to stay profitable,” Dr. Braun said.
Therefore, with all the extra red tape, doctors themselves are at a disadvantage. All the difficult insurance mandates consistently change. It is almost making payment harder and harder for physicians to obtain from year to year.
Dr. Braun became utterly dissatisfied with the system and decided to make an enormous change. As she became more familiar with the DPC model in healthcare, it seemed to be the option she was looking for, designed to combat the traditional “broken system” used in primary care. After deciding to become a DPC physician, Dr. Braun re-opened her office under the new name PhoenixDPC, Inc. in 2017.
Though DPC was started in the U.S. over 20 years ago, it is still a very unfamiliar concept to many individuals; it is “fairly new” in the South but more prevalent in other regions of the country. DPC is used for outpatient treatment. However, in no way does it replace insurance coverage for specialist care or hospital visits.
“Insurance companies have their place, just not in primary care,” Dr. Braun asserted.
Being that primary care makes up “about 80%” of medical care, DPC is invaluable. “Patients pay a set monthly membership fee for unlimited office visits,” so DPC physicians strive to keep their patients as healthy as possible to limit those visits.
“You want to treat them well to keep them healthy,” Oliver commented.
Patients count on that quality service at each visit. “There are no hidden fees; overhead and paperwork is reduced,” so treatment is a fraction of what it is in the traditional system. Dr. Braun is, therefore, able to serve her patients better without all the unnecessary demands and rigidity of constantly inflating cost structures. DPC coverage normally ranges from $59-$99/month for adults, depending on age; individuals ages 15-20 have a low rate of $10/month if their parents or guardians are members, while a four-person family is covered for $198/month. Payments follow an initial $99 registration fee. There are absolutely no deductibles and no co-pays; the membership fee covers all normal primary care needs.
Transparency is required so patients are always aware of any services not covered prior to receiving treatment. As DPC physicians maintain a “small patient panel” that cannot exceed 600 total patients, Dr. Braun is happy for the opportunity to spend more time with her patients—time they need and appreciate. Patients are usually able to get same-day or next-day appointments with short wait times. They can also book virtual visits.
While covering the broad scope of normal primary care needs for “complete body wellness,” She specializes in several chronic conditions, namely “diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.” She offers a wide array of services to patients, whether annual physical examinations, managing illnesses and chronic conditions, preventative treatment or administering imaging and labs; special labs not covered by DPC are offered at a discounted rate. A list of services provided can be viewed at www.phoenixdpc.com. Dr. Braun also does “wholesale pharmaceutical dispensing” with many common medications so patients can receive them at an affordable rate. Compared to normal retail costs, patients can usually expect “savings of over 80%” on lab services and pharmaceuticals. Some patients have seen that the huge savings more than pays for the membership fee.
“We simplify the whole operation and do away with unnecessary clutter…the things that make medicine expensive,” she stated.
In addition, PhoenixDPC patients have high accessibility to Dr. Braun; they can reach her at almost any time, as they may email, call or text her since they receive her cell phone number to use when needed.
“They get their needs taken care of immediately and not several days later,” she said.
The DPC model is also advantageous to employers, as they are able to experience immense savings. There are even reductions in employee time out from work for medical visits since there are seldom long patient wait times. Actually, companies across the U.S. have reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings both in pharmaceuticals and medical care. This makes it affordable for even the smallest of companies.
Considering all the benefits, Dr. Braun feels that the use of DPC in the area will soon take off.
“I think it’s going to grow, but people have to get used to it first. It’s good for the patients, but it’s also great for the doctors,” she said. Doctors are able to leave work at work without having the burden of carrying it home, whether physically or mentally.
As the DPC model continues to grow nationwide, Oliver hopes for a future where primary care is “carved out” of traditional insurance coverage, which will allow for an “open market,” or one that will basically “regulate itself” so that medical costs will decrease.
Dr. Braun’s entire quality of life has increased, as she has extra time to spend with her family and enjoy priceless moments. She, too, likes doing yoga and ballroom dancing.
“I have more spare time. When I’m home, I’m home for myself and my family. Both my professional life and my personal life have changed,” she said.
Dr. Heidi Braun is driven to provide her patients with “quality healthcare that makes sense,” as excellence in healthcare should never be sacrificed.




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