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New Trend in Healthcare: Shared Medical Appointments

February 06, 2015

As health care providers, our goal is to give people the best care possible. While this has traditionally only happened during a 1-on-1 visit, there’s a new method many doctors are using to enhance the patient experience—shared medical appointments.

Shared medical appointments allow doctors to see a group of people at one time in a highly interactive setting where they can learn from their doctor and each other. Patient care coordinators, registered nurses and a dietitian also are present to answer any questions. We recently launched a new pilot program for shared medical appointments with the goal of educating patients and empowering them to take control of their health. The program, which includes a one-year curriculum, has several benefits. Whereas a regular appointment may be 30 minutes, shared medical appointments are 90 minutes each month, which give patients more time to speak with their doctor. Typically, 10-15 people attend each appointment. We discuss sensitive medical information, and everyone involved agrees beforehand to keep the group’s discussions confidential. Participants also enter into an agreement with their doctor to follow the program, and strive to hit health goals in three measurable areas: blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. Shared medical appointments already have shown a lot of promise at hospitals and clinics across the country, because people learn more about preventive care that could help them avoid costly medical treatments or procedures with long recovery times.

Social benefits of shared medical appointments

The shared medical appointment approach also helps us connect people with similar health risks—such as diabetes, pre-diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia—so they can learn what things have worked for someone in a similar situation. When patients come together, they bring ideas that we as doctors may not have thought about, and this helps them achieve their care goals. It’s this type of camaraderie and group education that also helps to address gaps in care, encourages people to be more mindful of their health and more proactive with their prevention efforts.

We’ve already heard feedback from group participants indicating as much. “The group gives you an idea of what other people are doing,” said local resident Morris Pollard. “It gave me insight into how they were able to do their thing, outside of what a doctor tells you to do.” Shared medical appointments are a completely opt-in service. People who choose to participate in the group can still schedule regular 1-on-1 doctor’s visits to get private, individualized care. However, research shows that about 85 percent of patients who experience shared medical appointments don’t seek future individual visits for health needs such as weight loss, diabetes care or regular physicals. This approach is a great way to increase access to quality care and access to knowledge that can improve people’s health. We want to enable people to take better care of themselves at home, so they don’t have to visit a doctor as frequently, or so that even when they do, it is for well visits rather than sick visits.