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Setting a Spark

How Dr. Julie Gunther is Disrupting the Traditional Healthcare Model

Dr. Julie Gunther (a.k.a Dr. Julie) is passionate about healthcare.

The dual-Board Certified Family Physician opened sparkMD in Boise in 2013 after years of working in the traditional healthcare model, and she hasn’t looked back since.

“I started sparkMD to change how outpatient primary care is delivered and to give myself the time and space to provide the highest quality outpatient primary care,” Gunther said. “The critical ingredient to great medical care is time. Time plus compassion plus creative thinking plus knowledge.”

She does this at sparkMD, where she’s also a practicing physician, through the direct primary care (DPC) model. Patients, either insured or uninsured, pay a monthly fee for access to sparkMD services and can pay cash for labs, medication, and imaging, which have upfront pricing.

“It's traditional doctors and nurses changing how healthcare is delivered by simplifying the relationship between patient and physician,” Gunther said. “It means that we create a very personalized micro-community of nurses, doctors, and patients who know each other personally. The direct primary care model and sparkMD has a goal of eliminating all that is not essential to a physician’s ability to do their job supremely well and all that is not necessary to delivering the best care to an individual patient.”

Gunther has been a patient herself, so she knows exactly what it feels like. Three years after starting sparkMD, she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40.

“We want to know that the people helping us see us as humans and have our back,” she said. It is so frustrating and disturbing and, frankly, scary to have to spell your name four or five times or be ignored or overlooked at the check-in desk or to be treated like you are the problem. Much of the healthcare system makes patients feel like they are there to serve the system.”

The experience led Gunther to rededicate herself to sparkMD’s mission and expand its scope.

“You can provide healthcare in an independent, grassroots, hometown model and simplify it so profoundly that it changes the whole paradigm,” she said.

And with an increased demand from patients came a need to expand Gunther’s team with others who believed in her vision.

“Being a patient in healthcare systems is extremely difficult. Being an employee in healthcare systems, at times, can be even worse. At spark, I tried to create a space that not only serves patients, but serves the caregivers as well. Sometimes we work too much, and days are stressful. But overall, I believe my team would tell you that working at spark provides them the opportunity to do great, important work in an environment that also takes care of them.”

As for Gunther, she plans to continue helping patients and spreading the word about the DPC model.

“The role of the family physician is a comprehensive one,” she said. “I like knowing and being a part of the whole healthcare story.”

To learn more about what Gunther and her team are doing, you can visit sparkmd.com.

Everything is related and so knowing as much of 'everything' as possible about what is going on with my patients helps me not only put their health into the context of their lives, but it also often informs my clinical decision.