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Shared Medical Appointments: Are They for You?
October 15, 2013
A few years ago, I needed to make an appointment with one of my doctors. I was told that I could see her sooner if I attended a group appointment, otherwise known as shared medical appointment (SMA). At first, I was very hesitant. A group visit? With my doctor and other patients? How strange. I admit, I was very skeptical and I didn’t go in there with a very open mind. But I went.
The group was all women and was led by the doctor and a nurse practitioner. All of our relevant medical information, such as labs and medications, was listed on the board. We went around the room and discussed our issues and concerns. The doctor answered questions and the nurse practitioner stayed busy with documentation and filling out prescriptions. I did leave the room for my exam with the doctor, of course. All in all, it was a fairly positive experience.
What happens during an SMA?
Some of you may be envisioning an assembly line of patients, all in hospital gowns, waiting for the doctor to examine them. Rest assured that you keep your clothes on during an SMA. Typically, an SMA consists of about six to fifteen people. Primary-care SMAs are generally of the same gender and age range (for example, middle-age men). Usually, the SMA is led by a team of two or more providers, including a doctor, nurse practitioner, and perhaps a dietitian, social worker, or other specialist. While the doctor conducts a medical exam in a private room, the group might listen to a talk on, say, nutrition, or have a discussion about a particular topic. Time is also spent reviewing people’s lab results and medicines and answering any questions that might arise.
The trend is growing
Benefits of SMAs
Third, providers don’t have to repeatedly relay the same information over and over to one person at a time. This gives the provider even more time to discuss other things, like how to prevent certain conditions or newer treatments that may be available, that usually can’t be addressed during a regular office visit. SMAs may save money, too. A 2004 study involving people seen in the Kaiser Permanente system showed that those who attended group visits were less likely to go to the emergency room or be admitted to the hospital than conventional care patients.
Do SMAs work for diabetes?
The SMA consisted of 90-minute appointments every 6–12 weeks over a year, led by a doctor, pharmacist, nurse educator, dietitian, and health psychologist. The attendees agreed to share their medical results with the group, and the sessions consisted of education and medical consultation. The group discussed lifestyle changes and provided each other with support and shared experiences, especially around overcoming barriers to self-care. At the end of the study, A1C levels dropped by up to 1% (what would be expected from diabetes medicine). Those who didn’t attend the SMAs had unchanged or even higher A1C levels at the end of the year.
Are SMAs for you?
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