Updated: Mar 6
Direct Primary Care Doctor
Dr. Brian Blank grew up in the small town of Waterford, PA, delivering newspapers before leaving for the midwest to study broadcast journalism at the University of Missouri. He then spent the next several years working in cable news in both Atlanta and New York. In New York, he met his wife and father-in-law, a longtime primary care physician at the Cleveland Clinic. After many late-night conversations with him, he decided to switch careers to pursue family medicine. After stops in Boston and Costa Rica, he moved to Chapel Hill, NC, where he completed medical school at UNC. He then did my residency in family medicine down the street at Duke University Hospital.
In 2021, he opened Ember Modern Medicine, a practice he had dreamt about for more than a decade. By eliminating overpriced insurance restrictions, he can spend more time connecting with my patients and focusing on their health and wellbeing instead of rushing through 7-minute visits checking government boxes.
Dr. Blank and his wife Laura are now blessed with two beautiful daughters. In his free time, he enjoys competing in endurance sports. He's run more than a dozen marathons, finished 2nd in a 50-mile ultramarathon, and barely survived an Ironman Triathlon. Lately, he's been attending Swamp Rabbit CrossFit. In 2021, he started a running streak, attempting to run at least one mile every single day.
In this Halloween episode, Dr. Blank shares his story of how his love for family medicine drove him to change careers and how, after ten years, he has finally opened his clinic Ember Modern Medicine. He shares about his buildout, his staffing and so much more in today's episode!
Resources Mentioned By Dr. Blank:
- Keylight Communications (Laura Blank's Company)
- Josh Umbehr Article on pricing
Website: Ember Modern Medicine
Welcome to the podcast, Dr. Blank.
Thanks for having me. This is great.
So like you said, in your intro, you have been wanting to do DPC for a long time and February of 2021 rolled around and you finally did it, you opened up your practice, you opened up Ember, modern medicine, and I want to ask.
Yeah. And I wanted to say congratulations for
first of all. Oh, so it's so exciting. And hopefully as we get more patients, they will also be excited. They'll share the enthusiasm
and I want to just say, if you haven't gone and seen Dr. Blanks, social media posts, please go check out his Instagram, because you can see that not only is his practice named under modern medicine, there are actual embers in the front of his building, which is pretty incredible.
It's true. We have some gas lanterns out there, which I think are really cool and we've turned the flame up as high as they can go. Just like in our hearts, it's the Ember of our hearts. It's blooming and blossoming. It's becoming this wildfire. It's going to take over healthcare as we know it,
That is what all of us are pulling for, for sure.
And what all of us are working towards every day with every patient. Now I want, I wanted to ask in terms of this idea that you had thought about DPC for the last 10 years, can you share with us, what was that experience like in terms of how did you come to learn about DPC and what things were you thinking about through the years as you worked your way towards opening?
That's a great question. Medicine was a career change for me. So I was originally in journalism. And when I made the decision to go into medicine, I knew I wanted to do primary care. I had met my wife and her father, who is a longtime internist, the Cleveland clinic, and was talking to him about what he liked about primary care and what I liked about journalism.
And we saw this sort of overlap. So we decided to, make the plunge, so switch careers. But I was trying to find a way to make primary care work because I was talking with so many folks and they were talking about, oh you're going into medicine. You've gotta be, an orthopedist or some specialist and do something really fun, but that's not really ever what I wanted to do, but I had trouble figuring out how is it feasible to do primary care?
Because it sounds like so many of, and this was 15 years ago, so many primary care docs out there were getting burnout. And we're leaving the field altogether just didn't make sense. But you had alone as a, like an early med student. I knew many of my classmates were going into medicine because they were really pumped about these ideas of primary care.
So it was through the North Carolina academy of family physicians. They had a program for folks who were interested in family medicine, where they basically gave us that first summer after first year, a bunch of opportunities to look into different types of. So I built this elective with their help and where I got to spend a few weeks with a bunch of different types of primary care practices, including a straight up concierge practice.
So I was at a MD VIP. I got to see a traditional private primary care practice spent some time with submit paeds docs and that sort of thing. And so we got to see how that worked part of a another, each completely independent doctor and then direct primary care doctor Brian forest in apex, North Carolina.
And it was at his practice that I first discovered or heard about primary care. And I thought, holy smokes, this is everything that I've ever thought you could get in primary care, basically all this time. It was just this amazing experience. It was this apifany like, aha, this is how it should be.
And he was, he'd been doing it at that time for at least 10 years. I couldn't believe it. There was no one else that I'd heard of who was doing it at the time. And and he had been doing it for so long and it was his vision, as a resident. And he went straight out of residency and opened it up and it's just been doing great ever since.
And so yeah, since I saw that, I knew, okay, this is what I need to do. We gotta find a way to make this happen. And so I've, yeah, I've spent pretty much every waking hour. It seems like over the last 10 or 12 years, daydreaming about making this work and it can work. And I'm so excited about it too, because.
No, a lot of those friends who I started medical school with, who were really excited about primary care. And then they ended up specializing. I think if we can make a show that this really is an exciting way of doing primary care, it's a legitimate way. It's a it's it's really the dream of, I think what primary care can be, then I think we will get more med students going into that.
The pipeline is going to expand. We're going to get this sort of renewed enthusiasm towards primary care because we need it. So hopefully it's going to happen.
It's interesting because when you talk to people, even younger people about a family doctor one of the ways that I feel is effective when direct primary care physicians speak to patients when they're marketing or. Pitching their elevator pitch is to say it's just like medicine used to be. It's just like how a doctor used to come into your house and help you at your house rather than you having to go to a clinic.
And with this idea that the movement is growing actively and as we inspire each other, as we inspire others to do direct consumer care in the future, it's so interesting that is at the same time, going back to our roots as physicians, especially in primary care and refocusing on, on patients, but using that history to help people understand where we're coming from,
oh, totally. And I, I get that question a lot because patients will come up and ask about our name, which is Ember modern medicine. And they're like, what is modern medicine? What does that mean? And I go through this whole spiel about primary care, but really I'd say we're calling it modern. It feels modern.
It seems modern, but really it does seem it's old passionate heart. This is really how medicine used to be used to have. Visits with our doctors, we used to be able to be more in touch with them and, we, weren't always burdened with things like paperwork and and these gigantic hospital systems.
And yeah, it's modern, but it's retro at the same time we could call our practice and for retro medicine and it would still have the same effect.
It's definitely something to consider if there's somebody listening who is working on their name, it's something to do, they give out.
And I also think about the idea that, you know that people have had to change their names sometimes because of trademark issues sometimes because of just a change of heart or change of location. But I feel that no matter what your name is, you're right. That you literally can name yourself anything. And what you put behind the name is really what matters.
Totally. Oh yeah.
What pushed you to the point of today is the day today's the day that I'm going to do this and make DPC a reality for me.
you ever seen the Avengers? Yes. It's like fan I am inevitable. Even if the decision for direct primary care, it just felt like it was inevitable. As soon as I saw it, there was just no turning back.
It was this unstoppable force. It's got to happen. So just thinking about this reminds me of, I feel like a lot of a lot of folks, when they're in med school they come up with this idea of what it is that they want to do and, or they come up with a checklist, and then they cross things off and, primary care gets crossed off because it just doesn't seem practical.
But for me, it always felt like you should figure out what it is that you want to do, even if it's not practical. And then just find a way to make it practical, find a way to make it work because you don't, do you really want to spend your whole career as a dermatologist? If you don't get joy out of it?
Maybe it pays well or whatever, but you've got to really enjoy, I think, waking up and going to work if that's what you're going to do for your whole life. And so I find primary care is just so much more meaningful and, getting to spend and know patients over a long period of time, I think it's worth it, and so maybe you have to make some radical decisions and how you structure your life and your career. Maybe you're going to be independent, which doctors just aren't doing anymore. But maybe you've got to think differently. And in the end it works out. Hopefully, but yeah, it's gonna take some big thinking, I think, to follow those dreams
And in the era of COVID, it just made things like grand openings, an odd thing to plan, do you want a big party? How are people going to take that?
If it's a doctor's office, do you really want to have a big, mass lists event or something? Do you want to do it online? Is it still a grand opening? If it's an online party, do we even need a grand opening? These are all sorts of questions, but yeah, we we opened the doors and we're still getting everything in place, but yeah, we decided, I think it would be, it's going to be helpful for us, I think, to just commemorate it, even if it's not that big of a party, we'll see my wife's planning event.
I think it's gonna be, it's gonna be a lot of fun
And your wife, who is the owner of Keala communications sent me a downloadable link where I can find all of the information that I needed about you prior to your interview, just in one magic Dropbox folder with sub folders.
And so a huge compliment goes out to her,
yeah, she she and I both met in journalism and she has started a public relations company.
So it's been just invaluable having her as part of this startup. In fact, I was telling her last night, I wish we could have her full-time at our practice and find a way of making it work. So she's just donating all this time and it's just been, it's just been so helpful.
There's all these things to think about. And not enough time in the day to think about them all to push, he keeps us organized.
So the building where your clinic is located, was a regular brick front building initially, so did you, oh,
And the bank has left its vaults with us. So we have on the ground floor where our clinic is on Baltz in there with a giant vault door and we tell, all the kids that it's going to be, where all the bad kids are seeing there, they get locked in the vault. And the bank was nice enough to leave us two giant safes in that vault, including a six foot tall, safe, I could walk in where they kept all their safety deposits.
And that safe is probably like 4,000 pounds. And I have no idea what to do with it. There was like, basically this gift, but I got a quote just to move it and it would be $1,500. And then where do you take it? Even if you were to bring it home, you've got to have some pretty strong floors to be able to support a safe bet, weighs that much.
So I don't know if you know of anyone who needs a safe, let me know, because we've got two giant ones.
If you do keep it, I think you should call it Alcatraz. And the second thing that I think of is that would make a great interactive social media posts for your patients, as well as the world of DPC, because I feel that you would get a lot of interesting answers to that.
Yeah. We did make a post actually, when we locked ourselves out of the safe. And so it got locked somehow. I still know how it happened, but it it's big. It would just would not budge, like a safe should should respond. And so I ended up, I called the company that built the door and then I called the company that bought that company.
Then I called the company that bought that company. Then I bought, I called the company that made the little dial that you spin, on the door. And they're like, we have no idea. And then I called the bank and they didn't know. And then they call the second bank and then second bank was like, just try turning it left a 50 and then all the way right until it stops.
And that was it. That would, they have reset that's the generic. Walk if you're ever in a bank and wandering around you, whenever impress somebody, try that combination because it might work. And then it opens up the door at 1.1 of those companies, they were like, you know what these things are.
So rigorous, probably the cheapest thing for you to do is just go through the wall next to the door, just go around the door and then you'll get back in there. I was like, oh, okay. We can try that. We'll call that plan B
you could just go watch the Italian job and get the details as to how to manage that job.
Oh my goodness. That's intense. Maybe you could use the vault to rent out to house medical records. Since we have to keep them for seven years after closing practices change the default
code controlled substances, maybe who knows we could start everything in there.
Actually, this is interesting. One of the suggestions that the bank had given us for what to do with the volts, they said, wait for legalized marijuana in South Carolina, because this dispensary's apparently you can't keep a bank account. So they actually buy up these old bank vaults because they have to keep a lot of their stuff in cash.
So the, they said this was off the record, but now that we're talking it's on the record, they said, if you just wait until, marijuana ever becomes legal in South Carolina, I bet dispensary's will be popping up in there. They'll need something like a giant bank vault, not the vault, I guess I should say the safe in the vault, they could take the safe and use it in their place.
idea. There you go.
Thank you bank.
In addition to this lovely safe that has been included in your hand, your building can you share about how you decided that was going to be your clinic space?
Okay. COVID really helps with it, actually. It the Greenville real estate market has just been booming and it has been for decades, you know, 2008, things never really seemed to slow down around here.
We moved here about three years ago and we were looking for a spot that was in our neighborhood. Cause ideally it would love to have this practice that's walkable. And plus the neighborhood that we live in is there's really no primary care or urgent care in the area.
It's underserved in a sense. So there was a little lot that had, that was on the market and that we were looking at, but it would involve building a whole new building. So we spent a lot of time looking at it. We drew up plans for it. We had, we just could not make the parking work and make it make sense.