Doctor’s visits are supposed to be a time for patients to share their personal health problems with their physicians in total confidence. But shared medical appointments (SMAs) are challenging the status quo.
SMAs, sometimes referred to as group visits, are just what they sound like: Patients with similar medical conditions being pooled together and seen by a care team at the same time. Instead of each patient having 10-15 minutes with the physician individually, the group is given between an hour to 90 minutes. It’s a different approach, to be sure.
It’s also a growing trend. From 2005 to 2010, the percentage of family physicians conducting group visits more than doubled – from 5.7% to 12.7%, respectively. Is this a positive development, though?
The answer depends on what your practice and patients value. Below, we’ve laid out the pros and cons of shared medical appointments, so you can pass judgment for yourself.
Treat more patients – Shared medical appointments are usually carried out on patients with similar chronic conditions. To be cliché, the idea is to kill two (or more) birds with one stone. The time needed to conduct one group visit is typically less than if each patient were seen individually.
Increased appointment availability – Grouping similar patients under one appointment slot frees up time for doctors to treat patients with other conditions individually.
Insurance reimbursements unaffected – Most payers reimburse shared medical appointments at the same rate they would if patients were seen on a one-on-one basis. Depending on the size of the group visit, a single appointment could yield up to 10 separate reimbursements.
Patients learn from each other – Patients who attend group visits are sat with others going through the same issue. This allows them to share experiences and pick up bits of advice they may not have received during a solo visit.
Potential security risks – During an individual visit, the discussion is only heard by the physician and patient. Inherently, shared medical appointments involve patients sharing personal health information with each other. While patients typically sign confidentiality agreements, this doesn’t guarantee some patients won’t discuss other’s information with an outside party.
Falling through the cracks – Although more time is allotted for group visits, each patient still sacrifices individual attention. A more talkative, open patient may end up receiving better care than one who needs more coaxing to divulge their symptoms.
Multi-tasking – Some people have a more difficult time multi-tasking than others. Jumping from patient to patient during a group visit could result in a decrease in quality of care for some physicians.
As you can probably see, deciding whether to implement shared medical appointments at your practice can be difficult. The best option may be giving it a trial run to see how it works for your patients. It’s not like you can’t always go back to the more traditional method.
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