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Shared Medical Appointments Are An Important Method For The Healthcare Industry To Adapt To Impending Physician Shortage

As soon as I mention shared medical appointments, everybody automatically pictures a room full of people in their underwear.”-Dr. Richard Kratche, MD, Cleveland Clinic

Shared medical appointments have been offered by some clinics since the dawn of the new millennium, yet the concept has just started to gain more popularity in recent years. From 2005 to 2010 the percentage of clinics participating in SMAs doubled from 6% to 13%, and now clinics everywhere are starting to embrace the long-term patient health benefits of the approach. 

Dr. Kratche, a family physician that conducts physicals in a group setting, practices at Cleveland Medical Clinic, which was a pioneer for the shared appointment system. Group appointments typically include anywhere from 3 to 15 patients with similar health issues, and fosters an environment to learn, share, and motivate each other in controlling their conditions.

The most notable benefit to most patients is that the appointments last anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes, which is a huge increase compared to the standard 15 minutes of individual appointments. Bruce Moore, who is one of the patients that gets an annual group physical at Cleveland Clinic, tells The Times,

I feel I get more from the shared group experience — more in depth information. I feel I come away with more knowledge and feel more reassured about my health.”

Patients are not the only benefactors of the SMA approach, as physicians are finding that group visits improve their overall efficiency as well.  By having multiple patients in the same room, doctors are able to provide valuable healthcare and lifestyle information at once, rather than repeating the same information over several appointments for different patients.

Dr. Stephen Tang, a dermatologist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates that has seen great success with SMA, describes how he previously spent hours teaching the risks of melanoma and the importance of proper sun protection techniques. Though thorough skin exams are given to patients on an individual basis, afterwards Tang is able to review the results with the group and go over best practices that worked and those that did not. 

Accountability is a key component of why the SMA model has been shown to improve patient health outcomes in studies.  Steven Edelman, MD, who opts for SMAs with his diabetic patients, had the following to say regarding the advantages of displaying group results on a digital whiteboard,

We don’t do a comparison to browbeat people. It is a really good strategy for people who have poor glucose control. Instead of a doctor nagging them, they just see themselves among their peers. That seems to be to more powerful in turning these people around,” Edelman said.

According to the AAFP, patients such as Edelman’s who are suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes are the ideal patients for group appointments; one 10-year study that found that after just three years of participation in a lifestyle group, patients reduced their development of diabetes by 58 percent, while the patients managing the condition strictly with metformin reduced development by only 31 percent.

Though SMAs are not the first (or even best) option for every patient, the recent adoption of the practice by major clinics shows just how progressive the physicians of today are. Groups visits are just one of the many ways that the healthcare industry is reinventing itself.

Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.