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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Group Doctor Visits Gain Ground

WANT to spend more quality time with your doctor? Maybe you should try joining a group.

Paradoxical as that may sound, it works remarkably well for Bill Swain, 69, who began going to shared medical appointments several years ago after his doctor suggested the idea. Now he attends quarterly sessions for eight to 15 people that usually last 90 minutes.

A digital white board lists group members’ vital signs, such as blood pressure and weight. Mr. Swain, who doesn’t like falling behind his peers, especially likes the accountability and the extra medical attention.

“Yearly physicals can mean sliding too far back,” said Mr. Swain, who is retired and lives in Ellensburg, Wash. “I had a lump on my neck a few months ago. It turned out to be nothing, but I might have put it off until my physical. This way, I have the physician’s ear four times per year.”

Shared medical appointments are still relatively rare, but they are slipping into a system rife with 15-minute doctor visits, nearly doubling in popularity in the last 10 years, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. And they are being seen as one weapon for fighting fast-rising diseases like diabetes, which threaten to overburden the health care system.

Several studies show that group visits are particularly effective at keeping chronic illnesses in check. Typically, recent lab results are discussed and patients can schedule individual time with doctors if they need it. Nurses are also on hand to refill prescriptions or take vital signs.

Some experts see shared medical appointments as one antidote to the increasingly rushed typical medical visit, which doesn’t provide enough time to discuss chronic illnesses or overall wellness care. An aging population will intensify the need for new solutions in coming years, experts say.


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