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Group Medical Appointments Get Another Look

Michelle Wilson Berger for HealthLeaders Media, June 7, 2012

This article appears in the May 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Picture this: In a conference room at a major healthcare institution's family health center, 10 patients sit in comfortable chairs waiting to discuss their asthma. After a few minutes, a facilitator enters—at some institutions, it's a social worker or a nurse; here it's a psychologist.

What questions do you have for the doctor? she asks. What concerns? Do you need medication refills? What are your goals for today? As each person speaks, the facilitator scribbles notes on a whiteboard, readying the group for the physician to arrive. 

Once the doctor is in the room, the visit speeds up. She conducts an individual follow-up visit for every patient, ending with a care plan and next steps, leaving time for questions. An hour-and-a-half and a slew of queries later, the appointment ends. "Each person has the same visit that they would normally, but nine other patients are watching," says Marianne Sumego, MD, a staff physician at Cleveland Clinic's Willoughby Hills Family Health Center. "Can't you imagine the strength, if you're just sitting there listening?"

Sumego experiences a similar scene with every shared medical appointment she conducts, something she's done regularly for the past decade. "I start with patient A and go through her asthma. I fully complete patient A's visit and we develop a plan, then I go onto patient B. Patient B tells me about his asthma and we do a follow-up," she says. "Then we go to patient C, who may have asthma symptoms. We talk about her asthma, what she's currently doing, what she needs."

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2 comments on "Group Medical Appointments Get Another Look"


M. Bennet Broner, PhD (6/7/2012 at 1:07 PM)
This is deja vu all over again. Around 1993 I developed a group health maintence group concept focused around a psychologist and a health educator. I shopped the idea to the Center for Family Practice at the University of Alabama, Birmingham; and at Cooper Green Mercy Hospital (county run)and both saw no practical need for it. I wonder if they'd feel the same today? Presently, I am redeveloping the program for a non-medical non-profit.

Adrian Scipione (6/7/2012 at 9:46 AM)
I can't imagine this improving the care that the patient receives. It is highly improbable that every single patient in that group session would be as open and honest with their physician as if they were one on one, particularly if they have concerns about one treatment plan over another. It appears to me that, outside of a few cases that would be enhanced by a group meeting (ie. educating the patient on what to expect from their knee replacement surgery), this would stifle a dialogue in instances where that is very important. It is entirely a different matter where the course of treatment and the informed consent has already been obtained and you are merely going through the specific process and educating the patients on what they can expect. I am a non-believer who needs to be convinced about the advantages of this.