A patient tells the doctor that he isnt taking a medication as often as he should because it gives him an upset stomach and leaves a bad taste in his mouth. What advice does he get? "The same thing happened when I started taking that drug. Give it some time -- the side effects will go away in a few weeks." And the soothing voice of experience doesnt come from the doctor -- it comes from another patient who is sharing the same doctor appointment. Group Benefits This is a new trend in health care -- group doctor appointments are gaining popularity around the country, especially for pregnant women and for patients with chronic health issues, such as asthma, thyroid problems, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure. In a group visit -- also called a shared medical appointment -- a doctor typically sees from 10 to 20 patients at one time, all sitting in a circle in a large room. Often on hand are at least one physicians assistant and/or a nurse practitioner, dietitian, social worker or other medical practitioner. Working together, the team performs the same sorts of tests that the doctor would do in a one-on-one check-up, such as blood pressure, weight, temperature and other routine measures. Meanwhile, the patients converse, sharing information and advice -- much the same as what happens in a support group or one of the online patient forums (or perhaps even in the waiting room). Patients who want to speak privately to the doctor or who need to remove clothing for an examination are taken to a private room. These group doctor visits usually last longer than individual ones -- an hour or even two -- compared with 15 to 20 minutes or less for a one-on-one appointment. Higher Quality of Care? Patients dont necessarily save money on these visits, since the fees are often comparable to those for conventional appointments, but research has shown that they can reap great benefits -- for instance, learning more self-management skills from other patients and showing improvement in individual measures (such as blood pressure). This is not only because of all the peer support but also because doctors say that they can spend more time on education than in one-on-one visits. "Group visits have some big advantages," I was told by Ranit Mishori, MD, a family physician and faculty member at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, who has studied this trend. She said that both doctors and patients report feeling that more information gets exchanged in a more natural way. A study from Kaiser Permanente reports that seniors who attend monthly group visits have fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations than those who dont, reducing their average health-care costs 10% to 20%. Not Interested in Sharing? Of course, a group visit isnt always optimal or even appropriate. Patient confidentiality issues make it difficult to discuss specifics, such as lab test results, so that may need to be done privately. And Dr. Mishori was quick to say that some patients simply arent comfortable sharing information with people they dont know, at least initially. Generally speaking though, I like this idea -- not only can it be a way to deliver higher-quality care in an efficient way, it also offers built-in peer support. For many patients, particularly elderly ones who live alone, this may be the most important benefit of all. Source(s): Ranit Mishori, MD, MHS, assistant professor of family medicine, department of family medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC.