HENDERSON — Dr. Shauna Guthrie’s patients tend to be caught off guard when they call the main phone number listed for Sunflower Direct Primary Care and Guthrie actually answers the phone herself. One patient recently texted Guthrie to let her know that they would be late, and much to their surprise, she responded.
“You can’t do that in normal practice,” Guthrie said. “You would never text your doctor even if you had their number.”
Not only is Guthrie the only doctor on call for Sunflower DPC, she currently serves as the lab technician, receptionist and everything in between.
Guthrie — who’s been Granville-Vance Public Health’s medical director since 2015 — opened Sunflower in April and the new practice debuted to the public in a more formal capacity on Sept. 17 with a ribbon-cutting at its 123 Horner St. location in downtown Henderson.
An independent venture, Sunflower is designed to offer affordable and personalized care through the model of direct primary care, a health care concept that has gained momentum nationally in recent years. Sunflower DPC is the only practice of its kind in the Tri-County area, according to DPC Frontier, an organization that tracks direct primary care practices nationwide.
Gov. Roy Cooper last year signed House Bill 471 into law, making North Carolina the 29th state to allow direct primary care to be exempt from N.C. Department of Insurance regulation.
“The patient partners and contracts directly with the physician for payment,” Guthrie said. “So rather than the patient contracting with the insurance [company] and the insurance [company] contracting with the physician, and the physician just being subject to whatever insurance is willing to pay them, we’ve kind of taken out that middleman and we work directly with the patient for payment.”
At Sunflower DPC, patients pay monthly or annual fees determined by five separate age ranges (birth-17, 18-39, 40-59, 60-99 and over 100). For example, for children up to age 17, the price is $45 per month; for ages 60-99, the monthly fee is $85.
The monthly fees include services like phone calls, tele-visits, in-person visits, and diabetes and blood-pressure checkups. Additional testing or procedures add a small fee to cover the cost of supplies.
Guthrie, who worked as a physician at Vance Family Medicine before joining Granville-Vance Public Health, had been interested in opening her own practice for the last several years, and grew more inclined to join what she referred to as the “movement” of direct primary care.
A total of 1,569 direct primary care practices have been mapped by DPC Frontier. Most in North Carolina are located closer to the metro areas of the Triangle and Charlotte.
“For me, this is about providing good care to the community,” Guthrie said, adding that she hopes to bring in the sort of patients that work, but have too high an income to be on Medicaid.
“Maybe they have a high deductible health plan, which doesn’t cover much of their primary care needs,” Guthrie said. “So that’s a portion of the population I see as having a need that I can work with, and I’m hoping to work with some employers as well who have employees and can’t afford traditional benefits and can only afford high-deductible health plans, to help provide care to them.”
Currently, Sunflower DPC visits are by appointment only. Guthrie said the best way to schedule one is to visit www.sunflowerdpc.com.
Guthrie chose the Horner Street office, which she made into a “comfortable, casual and colorful” space, because she wanted to promote and support downtown Henderson. Above a dark blue couch in one of the rooms for patient visits, there’s a scenic photo of Kansas, the Sunflower State, where Guthrie grew up before moving to the East Coast for medical school and residency.
“I’m from there,” Guthrie said. “It’s just bringing a little bit of Kansas here.”