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May 11, 2016

The more the merrier? Group doctor visits are on the rise

Daily Briefing

In an effort to better serve those with chronic illnesses, some clinicians are eschewing the traditional one-on-one visit—and instead seeing more than a dozen patients at once.

Group appointments typically last one to two hours and include between eight to 15 patients, Constance Gustke reports for the New York Times. The visits allow more time to talk about wellness and other complicated subjects that can't typically fit in a 15-minute appointment.

"Group visits have so much to offer busy, backlogged, and harried physicians," says psychologist Edward Noffsinger.

While still relatively rare, group appointments have doubled in popularity over the last decade, and some research shows they can help keep chronic illnesses in check. During a standard group appointment, patients and clinical staff discuss lab results, compare vitals, refill prescriptions, and discuss their illnesses. Patients are also able to schedule individual time with their doctor if needed.

The groups also allow patients to talk with others who are going through similar experiences about their symptoms, side effects, and questions.

"People in groups do much better than individually," says Osama Hamdy, medical director of the Obesity Clinical Program at Joslin Diabetes Center. "They find wonderful friendships and motivate each other."

Joslin offers a 12-week group program to help patients control their weight and manage their diabetes. Nearly 500 people who enrolled in the program have lost an average of 20 pounds each, Hamdy says.

At California-based Eisner Pediatric and Family Medical Center, pregnant women can participate in two-hour group medical appointments 10 times throughout their pregnancies. Not only do the women undergo routine prenatal checks, but they share with each other their experiences during pregnancy, including symptoms such as food cravings and hormone fluctuations.  

"I feel like I'm not the only one, and I'm not crazy," says Alexandria Smith, a patient involved in the group. "I'm just pregnant."

The more, the merrier: Shared medical appointments


But not everyone is embracing the group visit. Some say the visits can undermine provider-patient rapport and that they cut costs at the expense of care.

"When you are sharing your doctor, that's not better for your health," says Jamie Court, president of the not-for-profit Consumer Watchdog. "It is better for the bottom line."

Others say that group visits can be helpful for certain patients.

"This is patient-centered," says Marianne Sumego, director of shared medical appointments at Cleveland Clinic. The Clinic offers multiple shared appointment options, including a group for hypertension patients and another for those with Parkinson's disease.

While group visits may help certain patients, Sumego acknowledges that others do better with a one-on-one provider appointment. But "with an aging population, I need to think outside the box," she says (Gorman, Kaiser Health News, 5/9; Gustke, New York Times, 5/6).

What do consumers want from primary care?

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  1. Current ArticleThe more the merrier? Group doctor visits are on the rise

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