Why Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser are touting group appointments for patients

Some of the nation's leading health systems, including Cleveland Clinic and Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, are highlighting group medical appointments as a way to give patients expanded healthcare access and help providers see more patients, The Washington Post reports.

Seven report insights:

1. Cleveland Clinic offers over 200 types of shared appointments, such as groups for diabetes or heart disease, male and female wellness, osteoporosis, prenatal and postpartum issues, chronic pain and cancer survivorship.

2. Rather than rushing through a one-on-one appointment, patients can meet with eight to 10 peers and a physician to discuss health challenges, nutrition and exercise for an hour or more each month.

"When we think of advances in healthcare, they're always technology or medication or vaccines, and it's really time to look at the healthcare model," said Marianne Sumego, MD, internist, pediatrician and director of Cleveland Clinic's shared medical appointments.

3. Group appointments let providers see more patients than their usual schedules allow, which could prove particularly beneficial when considering the looming physician shortage.

4. Ten percent of family physicians offered group appointments in 2015, up from 5.7 percent in 2005, according to data from the American Academy of Family Physicians cited by The Post.

During his time as a psychologist at Kaiser, Ed Noffsinger, PhD, pioneered group medical appointments. Dr. Sumego, who was one of the original providers, brought them to Cleveland Clinic in 1999. Shared appointments are now considered an important, standardized part of care options Cleveland Clinic offers.

5. Each year, more Cleveland Clinic patients participate in shared appointments. The health system's internal surveys suggest a high level of patient satisfaction, especially when taking access to care into account. Additionally, the health system addresses privacy concerns by requiring patients to sign confidentiality paperwork and by having its staff remind patients "how we really want to respect [all participants] and keep the information within the room," Dr. Sumego noted.

Dr. Sumego fields a number of calls every week about shared appointments. "I think it's gaining traction," she said. "Our success indicates that it's very sustainable, viable, and that it's well received."

6. Several years ago, Joanna Stark, MD, an obstetrician with Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center in California, saw two women in back-to-back appointments who were both 28 weeks pregnant and asked similar questions. Noting this, Dr. Stark searched for a way to bring these patients together. "I'd have more time to answer their questions, and they'd also maybe make a friend," she explained.

7. While researching shared medical appointments, which Kaiser now offers at facilities nationwide, Dr. Stark found Centering, a licensed group-appointment model developed for prenatal care in the 1990s. These sessions have consistent start and end times, one-on-one time with providers as well as group time.

Dr. Stark highlighted the comfortable, less formal environment of these sessions.

"Patients call us by our first names,” Dr. Stark said.  “We don't wear our white lab coats. We dress more casually. We're all at the same level," she said. "There will be somebody who says, 'What do I do about my hemorrhoids?' and you feel like, 'Oh, I'm not alone, I'm not the only one.' And it just normalizes it. And that is just such a reassuring thing for people."

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