Shared Medical Appointments: A New Practice Model for Dermatologists?

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In a recent article published online in Time magazine, “The New Group Medical Checkup,” the potential benefits of shared medical appointments are discussed. The author mentions that “[a]mong those who try shared visits, about 85% don’t go back to individual exams for everything from diabetes to weight loss and skin-related issues.”

A shared medical appointment is a group visit for the patient. For example, patients sign in and have their vital signs taken. If the visit includes a one-on-one examination by the physician, the nonphysician office personnel answers questions for the other patients. Discussion of the patients’ problems and treatments is then conducted in a group setting; additional time (eg, 90 minutes) is allocated to the visit so that the patients can learn from each other’s medical problems and have ample opportunity to ask questions.

Group visits are already being conducted by family medicine practices. It also is anticipated that additional specialties may incorporate shared medical appointments because group visits shall provide an efficient means for lowering costs when major provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are implemented next year.

Group visits can provide advantages for both the physician and the patient. The shared medical appointment enables the physician to streamline the delivery of care without having to repeat the same recommendations to each patient separately. The group visit encourages patients to inquire about their disease and to learn more about their condition by being able to share the experience with other patients.

What’s the issue?

The practice of medicine (and dermatology) continues to evolve, from sole practitioners to group practices to multispecialty groups to corporate-owned and -managed institutions. Some of the established means for interaction between the physician and the patient occur in a setting that is either private, hospital based, or concierge. However, social and financial influences are promoting another practice model: shared medical appointments. Is this approach to medical management appropriate for dermatology? If group visits are considered to be an appropriate approach to dermatology patient care, should dermatologists embrace this new concept and incorporate it into their practices?

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