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Shared Medical AppointmentsShared medical appointments! What does this increasingly popular paradigm hold for patients, physicians and payers? As a patient, you may be wondering whether you will have to discuss intimate health details in front of strangers. You may have to, and that may be awkward. However, it is seen that a number of patients do endorse these shared appointments because they are beneficial. For instance, Cleveland Clinic has been offering shared medical appointments for more than ten years now and they say that 85% of the patients who have tried these appointments want to return. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, a notable increase from 6% to 13% was recorded in the percentage of family physician practices offering group visits during the period 2005 – 2010.

Why Patients Prefer SMA (Shared Medical Appointments)

Patients who have scheduled and attended shared medical appointments say that they felt a remarkable sense of comfort, and even motivation to share similar experiences. Whether diabetes care, weight loss, physicals or even skin cancer, patients who tried SMA don’t prefer to back to individual visits.

From the patient’s point of view, medical appointments can provide more in-depth information on their health condition. Take for instance your individual visit for diabetes care. Due to the limitation in time (probably 10 to 15 minutes), the physician can only give an overview regarding how you can improve your health condition. In group visits, the physicians can talk more about how you can reduce your weight and get your blood pressure under control. You can spend more time with your physicians and communicate with them effectively. Apart from getting answers to your questions, you can listen to others’ questions and gain more information.

Armed with more medical information, you can pay more attention to your health and also find out whether you have any risky health condition. For example, experts say that melanomas, dangerous forms of skin cancer are 98% curable if detected early. During a group visit, you can get more information about melanomas and safe sun practices so that you can either avoid melanomas or diagnose them early. Even though group visits cost the same as individual visits, they can reduce the chance of developing serious medical conditions which require costly care. In fact, group visits are an excellent option for patients to learn more ways to prevent serious diseases and avoid expensive treatment later on. Shared appointments are particularly beneficial for people with chronic conditions such as asthma, hypertension and diabetes.

Shared Medical Appointments – the Physician Perspective

If you think from the physicians’ viewpoint, this option is a really favorable one. Physicians can see more patients at the same time, which will reduce their effort and improve the returns. You can imagine the amount of time and effort required for a physician to repeat his advice on lowering blood pressure or keeping glucose levels in check to ten diabetic patients individually. Group visits allow doctors to see all these patients with common conditions at the same time and provide this advice. It will also reduce the hassles of patient scheduling as the same date can be allotted for all patients having similar symptoms.

Even hospitals are trying new ways of managing patient flow and giving a breather to their physicians. Healthcare organizations across the US have started implementing shared medical appointments to effectively handle large volume patient influx. Usually, group visits are scheduled for patients with conditions such as diabetes, HIV and liver disease among others.

Payers Also Welcome the Group Visit Model

Improving the quality of healthcare while reducing the cost involved – this is definitely an attractive proposition. Most insurers now cover shared medical appointments and doctors are also considering allotting shared medical appointments for prenatal visits, obstetrical appointments as well as for behavioral conditions such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. However, group visits may not be beneficial for every patient as they are not effective to address emergency conditions that must be taken care of by a specialist immediately.

In a nutshell, the main benefits associated with shared medical appointments are:

  • Improved access to quality healthcare
  • Increased physician and patient satisfaction
  • Improved clinical outcomes
  • Reduced costs
  • Fewer hospital admissions

To summarize, SMA is proving to be advantageous for all parties involved – the patient, the physician and the payer. Patients get to spend more time with their physician, receive more quality care and also interact with other patients with similar health conditions. This enables them to understand why and how to control their condition and improve their quality of life. Physicians can reduce the frustration associated with appointment scheduling. They will be less overwhelmed and be able to spend more time with their patients. Payers also are happy that they are providing coverage for improved level of healthcare.