Group visits can be a great complement to many medical practices that provides many benefits.

The emergence of group visits, sometimes referred to as shared medical appointments (SMAs), began when physicians and their managers recognized access for patients with chronic illnesses was inadequate. Patients with chronic conditions such as asthma, COPD and diabetes ended up coming in when their symptoms were exacerbated and out of control. This was either because they couldn’t get an appointment sooner or they were simply non-compliant with keeping regular appointments. Their health condition was being compromised and physicians were frustrated because there was not enough time to address complications sufficiently during the typical time allotted on the schedule.

Group visits enable a practice to bring a small group of patients with the same disease together to discuss the common issues they share and how to better manage their chronic condition. At the same time, each of the attendees has individual time with the physician or other provider for an examination and specific treatment recommendations. In 2002 this was defined as a revolutionary access solution in a Group Practice Journal article authored by Edward B. Noffsinger, PhD, a pioneer in the development of group visits. The first clinical applications of this mod

Many patients like the group practice visit and getting support from people that share their problems. It can be very affirming. The shared visit often contributes to improved compliance, as some patients report their condition improving when they adhered to their treatment regime.   It’s a win for the patients, the practice and the payer as access improves, cost of care goes down and better clinical outcomes are achieved. Physicians can actually see more patients in less time and the practice gets paid for the level of care provided, since each patient is billed the same as an individual appointment and the co-pay amount remains unchanged. The insurance companies don’t seem to care as much about where the patient is seen as they do about the level of service the patient is getting.

It is expected that the group visits will expand rapidly to provide much needed care for the more than 20 million people and are and will be newly insured with the adaption of the Affordable Care Act.   Add to this the severe shortage of primary care physician now and predicted to grow rapidly and group visits can provide a path to ensure patients with chronic conditions get the care they need.

There is a fair amount of planning goes into preparing to offer shared appointments, as it is important to be properly staffed, mange the visit time well, obtain privacy waivers from the patients, and take steps to make sure patients show up. If you are interested in adapting a group visit model for your practice, we can help: contact us.

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