Forming a community of care
Among the benefits of the shared medical appointment model is unprecedented access to the doctor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients spent less than 20 minutes, on average, with their physician during an office visit in 2005 (the most recent data available). Here, they're in the same room for more than four times that. And though they're not the doctor's focus the whole 90 minutes, they still soak up what's being said and learn from questions they may not have thought to ask.
"The patients enjoy the visit; they like focusing on the disease," Sumego says. "Patients themselves end up being good role models, and that positively reinforces what they're doing to manage the disease."
They also lose the sense of isolation that can come from being a patient. This is particularly true for those with chronic conditions, Neuwirth says.
"The group visit is a compassionate, patient-centered approach to delivering care," he stresses. "Think about it. If you have six or eight or 10 other patients in the room, you've now got a community of care. You've got a whole bunch of ears and hearts listening to you."
That community of care is why physicians enjoy shared medical appointments, too. They can get off the stream-of-patients treadmill. They don't have to feel like a broken record, repeating the same information 10 times. And rather than writing up a visit note for each person, they simply review one completed by someone trained in doing this. "The physicians who do it love it. Many of them will tell you it's the best part of the week," he says. "The clinician is now supported by a team. So you can spend time talking to patients, thinking with patients, advising patients." Sumego brings it back to why many physicians went into this line of work: to spend time getting to know patients and, in turn, providing high-level care.