Share the Care: Should you offer group patient visits?

Several things are on the rise in healthcare: costs, the aging population, and ... the number of patients in the room. To manage an influx of patients and escalating costs, some providers now offer shared appointments, wherein they see a group of patients with similar symptoms simultaneously.  In fact, as of 2010, 13% of family physicians offered these appointments.

The format.

group-medical-visit

The doctor and nurse(s) meet with the group, field questions, review patients’ progress and symptoms, and moderate a supportive patient discussion.  While the doctor examines patients individually, the nurses review the patients’ prescriptions and take vitals.  The group usually meets regularly – maybe biweekly or monthly – for up to 2 hours at a time.

To protect privacy, patients all sign confidentiality agreements.  They’re also not obligated to share information with the group and are always free to schedule individual appointments with their doctor.

The patient experience.

Patients enjoy more time with their providers, but the long appointments may be difficult to integrate into busy life and work schedules.  According to the American Association of Family Physicians, the appointments “provide a secure but interactive setting in which patients have improved access to their physicians, the benefit of counseling with additional members of a healthcare team (for example a behaviorist, nutritionist, or health educator), and can share experiences and advice with one another.”

Should you offer group appointments?

Insurance companies typically reimburse group visits at the same level as individual visits, as the billing remains based on services rendered, rather than setting. Through shared visits, providers can treat more patients without working a longer day, thus increasing revenue.  For example, in an 8-hour day, one physician schedules four 2-hour group visits with 12 patients each, thus seeing 48 patients that day. Another physician schedules four 15-minute individuals visits per hour, thus seeing 32 patients that day.  Each patient was billed the same amount, meaning that the first doctor saw 50% more patients and earned 50% more money than the second doctor.

Insurance companies typically reimburse group visits at the same level as individual visits. The doctor sees 50% more patients and earns 50% more money after a full day of group visits.

While this seems enticing, it doesn’t sit right with some providers who feel uncomfortable increasing their profits while sacrificing individualized patient attention.

Group visits also help address the physician shortage approaching with the collision of an aging population and an increased number of insured Americans.  There is greater demand on the system and providers’ time, and these visits help quell the overload on practices.

Would the “group visit” model work in your practice or clinic? Could you apply it to some services, specialty clinics, or conditions? How do you think your patients would respond?

What next?

If you want to offer group appointments to your patients, it’s important to understand their privacy and recordkeeping complexities.  Email Erin at erin@jackson-legal.com to learn more.

Further Reading:

Shared Medical Appointments, Cleveland Clinic, available at http://my.clevelandclinic.org/patients-visitors/prepare-appointment/shared-medical-appointments

Shared Medical Appointments/Group Visits, American Association of Family Physicians, available at http://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/shared-medical.html

John Tozzi, Your Next Doctor’s Visit Could Get Crowded, Bloomberg News, available at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-01-29/health-why-group-medical-visits-are-catching-on

© 2016 Jackson LLP

 

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