The Growth Channel

The more, the merrier: Shared medical appointments

Emily Zuehlke, Marketing and Planning Leadership Council

Should “the more, the merrier,” be extended to “the more, the merrier, and the healthier?” Emerging evidence from shared medical appointments indicates “yes”—but only for certain patients.

The Daily Briefing noted recently that shared medical appointments (SMAs), or group visits, are growing in both availability and popularity: according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 12.7% of family physicians conducted group visits in 2010. The most consistently successful SMAs focus on:

By providing more intensive patient education and peer support, group visits have produced statistically comparable or improved health and patient satisfaction outcomes compared to individual appointments. Other advantages of group visits include improved provider efficiency and productivity as well as increased time spent with a clinician.

Significant potential, but not for everyone

Shared medical appointments have been well-received by patients who have tried them: 85% of patients who attended a shared medical appointment attest that they would not go back to traditional one-on-one visits with a doctor. However, 40% of AAFP survey respondents who have not tried group visits say they would decline to participate.

While SMAs have tremendous potential for certain patients, practices offering group visits agree that the service is not a good fit for all patients or providers. Patients are often hesitant to try the group setting, even with the explicit privacy protection measures that patients agree to uphold. While select patients warm up to the concept quickly, group educational settings can be off-putting to certain personalities. Group visits are also not a good fit for all physicians, particularly those who do not feel equipped to facilitate a group discussion or those without the time or resources to address potential privacy concerns.

Guidelines from the Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic offers guidance in situations in which SMAs are and are not appropriate. According to the health system, group visits are potentially applicable for patients who are:

  • Needing routine follow up care, possibly due to chronic conditions
  • Seeking more information regarding their specific health issues
  • Requiring body and mind care

However, Cleveland Clinic says group visits are not intended to:

  • Replace your regular visits with a physician
  • Be used as a one-time consultation
  • Treat urgent medical concerns that should be addressed immediately by a specialist
  • Diagnose and treat complex medical care

Additionally, patients with severe hearing impairments, significant dementia, or severe acute infections as well as new and uninterested patients are not ideal candidates for a group visit.

More on Population Health

With these guidelines in mind, health systems across the country have successfully run SMAs to address a diverse set of patient needs, and recent findings from a Population Health Management study suggest that “SMAs are a viable and potentially generalizable delivery model.” 

To quickly evaluate whether group visits are a good opportunity for your patient population, please see our Primary Care Access Opportunity Audit.