Connecting Care with Shared Medical Appointments

Imagine the next time you schedule a doctor’s office visit you were given the option of meeting with a team of medical professionals for an hour.  You would be given the chance to ask questions, learn about your medical conditions, and build long term strategies for a healthy lifestyle.

This is exactly what is happening during shared medical appointments.  While still relatively rare, shared medical appointments have nearly doubled in popularity over the past 10 years according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.  As they continue to become more popular, it’s important to understand what they are and why this new approach is so successful.

In a typical shared medical appointment (SMA), a multidisciplinary team meets with anywhere from 8 to 15 patients for about 60 to 90 minutes.  Depending on the focus of the appointment, the team could consist of any combination of physicians and nurses, specialists like dieticians and counselors, and other resources such as a pharmacist or rehabilitation technician.

During the session, the focus is on education and discussion about self-care, wellness, and positive lifestyle changes.  The group dynamic allows others to share challenges they are facing and receive support from others who may have faced similar issues in the past.  Group discussions also foster more question and answering sessions than would typically be found in a traditional office visit.

During an SMA patients still receive one-to-one treatment and any exam is performed privately.  But SMAs are not a replacement for your regular doctor’s visits. These programs are designed to be a supplement to your care – providing additional resources to help patients deal with chronic conditions or to recover from treatment.

Several studies show that group visits are effective at keeping chronic illnesses in check.  They are seen as an important tool in dealing with fast-rising diseases like diabetes, which threaten to overburden the health care system.  Patients benefit from more time with their physician, reduced waiting time for appointments, increased access to their medical team, and the opportunity to learn from other patients’ questions.  Some experts see shared medical appointments as an antidote to the increasingly rushed typical medical visit, which doesn’t provide enough time to discuss chronic illnesses or overall wellness care.

Shared medical appointments will continue to expand in popularity across the entire healthcare system.  Talk to your physician about how you can add these programs to your existing healthcare plan.

Posted in Health, News.