Ever since she was a little girl, Bridget Gruender always wanted to be a medical doctor.
Her road was a long and uncertain one, but it ended with her achieving her dream. Now working as the owner and physician of Liberty Family Medicine, Gruender has focused in on a new goal: Make health care more affordable by spreading direct primary care practices.
Gruender talked with us about the state of health care in this nation and how it can be improved.
What do you think has been your greatest contribution to the Columbia community in terms of health care?
Affordable access to health care. Most people can’t afford what they feel they need. Urgent cares are expensive. Going to a primary care doctor’s office is expensive, with a co-pay and/or visit fee if you don’t have insurance. Offering an affordable option for those individuals is huge. Along with that, affordable care includes medications and labs, which we offer in the clinic as well.
So, it’s not just the visit; it’s what they need to complete their health care. Afterward, following up in the labs, taking the medications, making those affordable.
So your practice is a direct primary practice?
Direct primary care is the type of practice; we’re a family medicine clinic. So, my training is in family medicine. I was trained to see all ages and all types of conditions. I see children all the way through geriatric patients. I do chronic care, so like diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, things like that as well as acute care, so strep throat, coughs, viral illnesses, pneumonia, somebody cuts themselves, I can sew that up, that kind of thing.
Direct primary care basically just means you charge a membership fee for the services that you offer. So it’s different in that it’s not a fee for service, which is, for instance, what an urgent care is. They offer a service, they charge you a fee. It's different.
What does it mean to you to be recognized for progress in health care?
I think that’s a really great honor, honestly. This is something, if physicians continue to adopt this type of practice, it could change the face of health care for the entire nation, which is huge. Direct primary care has been around for about 20 years, or maybe a little longer. There are over 1,000 practices like mine around the nation.
We’ve been open for 2½ years. We were the first in Columbia, and we’re the only one seeing all ages, which is huge. It’s spreading like wildfire, which is great. Being recognized for something like that, it feels good because it’s going to make a lot of changes.
Why do you think your category, health care, is important?
Your health is really all that you have. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing. A lot of people can’t afford the care that need to get their health to a good point or to keep their health at a good point.
I don’t know what the other categories are, honestly, but, in my opinion, health care is the most important category because if you don’t have your health, you have nothing. Affordable health care, helping people reach their health goals, helping people stay healthy, it’s huge.
What are you doing right now to, like you said, spread this wildfire of direct primary care?
The initial vision was just for me to have a community of patients that I cared for very intimately. At the heart of my practice is the relationship with the patients, with me. Not with somebody else. Not with a care coordinator or a nurse. Of course, if they have a relationship with my nurse, I think that’s great, but for me to be their primary contact is the goal.
As far as continuing to spread, we’re ready for another physician. I have enough patients in my panel that I would like to add another physician who is able to do the same thing. If they don’t want to do … the little tasks that mean so much or own a business, run a business, all of that.
They don’t have to do that. They can come on as an employed physician, have a better way of life, make a good salary, have a good connection with their patients, and that will continue to spread.
When you were getting into medicine, did you always want to get into direct primary care?
No. I didn’t even know about it. They don’t tell you about it in med school because they want you to stay in the system. They want you to be an employed physician and continue to make money for the systems.
I actually learned about it from two fellow residents when I was in residency. They didn’t, as a residency, talk or teach about direct primary care, and this was six years ago now. So, not early in the movement by any means because it’s been around for 20 years, but still, there’s so many people who don’t know about it.
It’s not the traditional route, so it’s not what’s taught. It’s honestly the smartest and most cost-effective route.