By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
The concept of shared medical appointments (one doc seeing several patients) isn’t well known or widely available…yet. That seems to be changing.
The pressures of “more patients” and “fewer doctors” (among other things) are straining the nation’s healthcare delivery system, but it’s fueling innovative approaches that save time, reduce cost, and improve access, outcomes and satisfaction.
There’s a growing marketing and advertising opportunity for hospitals and group medical practices that offer the option of appointments in groups of a dozen or so patients. It’s appropriate in some—but not all—circumstances, but it may help both patients and providers.
As one illustration, several Cleveland Clinic departments offer shared medical appointments (SMA) for patients with common needs. The typical 90-minute session is with one or more healthcare providers. (Cleveland Clinic piloted SMAs more than a decade ago.) Although the patient-provider time is not one-on-one, patients say they appreciate the greater access and longer time with the medical team.
Who benefits from Shared Medical Appointments?
The Cleveland Clinic model says that the group approach may be suitable for:
- Patients needing routine follow up care maybe due to chronic conditions
- Patients seeking more information regarding their specific health issues
- Patients who require mind and body care; these are typically patients who require additional time with their physician.
But they also say the program is NOT intended to:
- Replace your regular individual visits with your physician
- Be used as a one-time consultation
- Treat urgent medical concerns that should be addressed by a specialist immediately
- Diagnose and treat complex medical care
Group programs vary among facilities, but generally appointments are offered as an option for patients with a common medical concern, such as diabetes or heart disease. Participants sign confidentiality agreements, and sessions include doctor-lead discussions.
What’s more, the Los Angeles Times reports, “Physicians like not having to repeat themselves several times a day to people with the same ailments. Research shows that for certain patients, group visits can reinforce healthy behaviors and reduce emergency room visits.”
In addition to Cleveland Clinic, group appointments are available at a growing number of medical facilities in the US. Other examples include, UC San Diego, LA County outpatient and specialty clinic, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates (Atrius Health), Palo Alto Medical Foundation (Sutter Health), as well as programs in M Massachusetts, North Carolina and Ohio.
Although the shared appointment model is not widely promoted or universally accepted, it represents a marketing opportunity, and a unique approach that is supported by the American Academy of Family Physicians and the California Association of Physician Groups.