Let’s face it. Many offices casually accept the glaring inefficiency of providing the same education to similar chronic disease patients over and over, one by one, room by room. Riddled with redundancy, this approach is routinely frustrating to both physician and patient because either the appointment time or the reimbursement/cost of the visit ultimately limit the experience. In contrast, a lifestyle-based group medical appointment provides 90 minutes of education and behavior change coaching on one uniting topic to 10-16 people who all need the same training and implementation skills. Research has shown that this progressive appointment structure promises the clinical, operational, and financial benefits in a setting where patients, providers, insurers and employers all win in the end.
Here’s a simple example of how it can work. Consider scheduling patients with similar needs for education in a 90-minute group appointment slot. Then, at the appointment time, the committed provider, an educator and an inspired community can come together to tackle complex, chronic disease at its core. Whether you decide to teach the anti-inflammatory diet for the prevention and/or treatment of hypertensives/ diabetics/ prediabetics/ hyperlipidemics or to tackle the details of the 5R approach for patients with IBS/ IBD/ autoimmunity/ atopy, you have the opportunity to make real changes in your professional fulfillment, your patient’s quality of life and the healthcare system as a whole.
Despite perceived obstacles like billing and HIPAA, the group visit is surprisingly easy to employ with some minimal training. In fact, institutional leaders such as CMS and AAFP highly endorse the use of group visits in a variety of clinical settings. Whether a practice is 100% insurance-based or cash-based services, primary or specialty care, in a rural or urban setting, the benefits are the same. A comfortable pace and partnership with patients, the increased availability of total appointment slots, the reduction of lobby wait times and certainly the potential 200-600% increase in profitability elevate the possibilities of a brighter future for physicians.
Actually, everybody wins when a patient is given the right tools, guidance and support to help them reduce or reverse the literally ‘life-draining’ aspects of chronic symptoms or disease. Health insurers and employers see that improved clinical outcomes translate to improved physical and fiscal health for the lives they support. And last, but not least, patients finally have the time, social support and in-depth education they need to move past the limits of the individual visit manifesting as better knowledge scores, higher adherence to therapy and follow-up appointments and ultimately better outcomes. And if the objective data isn’t compelling enough, the soft, subjective benefits of lifestyle-based group visits should be even more compelling. Nearly 90% of all patients who attend group medical appointments would rate the experience as very good or excellent and would definitely recommend it to others.
They say that any setting whether office, home, church or doctor’s office has a culture. Either you can create one that better embodies your oath to patient service or you can let the natural forces of our healthcare system create a less palatable version for you to work in every day. Luckily, you always have the choice to transform yourself and the culture you create!
About Shilpa P. Saxena, MD
Shilpa P. Saxena, MD is a Board-Certified Family Practice physician whose passion and purpose come to life through providing education and tools to improve the healthcare experience for patients and physicians. As founder of SevaMed Institute, Clinical Faculty for the Institute for Functional Medicine and Guest Faculty/Fellow of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Dr. Saxena shares her advanced primary care Group Visit Toolkits for those interested in igniting their practice through enhanced patient education and insurance-billable Group Visits.