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Do Group Doctor’s Visits Boost Patient Satisfaction, Education?

A new doctor's appointment model, called shared medical appointments, not only increase practice efficiency, but also boost patient satisfaction and education.

By Sara Heath

To boost patient-centered care and patient education, it’s the more the merrier, a new study says. A recent article published in the American Journal of Managed Care indicates the benefits of shared medical appointments, saying that they raise patient satisfaction and patient education.

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The study, conducted by researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing, included patients suffering from chronic sinus issues and enrolled them in group doctor’s appointments called shared medical appointments (SMAs).

SMAs involve a group education portion, which reviews methods by which patients can manage a chronic health concern and maintain their wellness. They also include individual portions during which patients have one-on-one time with their providers. These models have proven to be more efficient in certain settings.

“The goal is to provide patients with the benefits of a traditional one-on-one appointment, while also providing, for example, patient education in a group setting,” the research team explained. “In small practice settings, the SMA may allow providers to see more patients in a time frame, while improving outcomes.”

In the case of this study, SMAs also prove themselves to be effective in boosting patient satisfaction and education. After carrying out SMAs for patients with chronic nasal issues for six weeks, the researchers issued surveys and pre- post-appointment knowledge assessments.

The survey showed that patients gleaned new knowledge from these appointments. Just about half of patients reported hearing answers to questions they had never thought to ask. The knowledge assessments supported these findings, with a majority of patients improving on their knowledge assessments following the SMA.

Patients also reported high levels of satisfaction with SMAs, indicating that they would visit again. Three quarters of participants said they would schedule an SMA in the future, and 53 percent said they did not wish that they had scheduled an individual appointment instead of their SMA. Seventy-one percent said they would recommend an SMA to a family member or friend.

Further, the patients reported feeling comfortable in the group setting. Considering the highly sensitive nature of medical information discussed during doctor’s appointments, it was likely that patients would have security concerns in a group setting. However, 88 percent of participants said they were comfortable with the level of security applied to the situation.

Although SMA models show potential for improving patient education and satisfaction, the researchers identified three issues.

First, appointment scheduling proved slightly difficult. Appointments scheduled by a nurse practitioner, who was charged with informing patients on the details of an SMA, had higher turnouts than those scheduled by an administrative assistant.

The researchers suggested that this was because patients needed more information in order to understand what kind of appointment they were signing up for.

Second, appointment reminders often notified patients of the incorrect time for the appointment. Because SMAs include one-on-one time between the patient and the provider, as well as the group meeting, patients had to manage two timeframes. However, the appointment reminder technology used in this trial only notified patients of their individual meetings, causing many to show up to the SMA at the incorrect time.

Last, SMA leaders had difficulty finding a space large enough for all of the patients. While office conference rooms were ideal for the SMA, they were often unavailable, creating a challenge for appointment organizers.

Going forward, however, these appointment models show promise for improving patient care, satisfaction, and education.

“The SMA provides an opportunity for efficient healthcare delivery that maintains or increases quality and patient satisfaction,” the researchers concluded. “Patient-centered care requires that providers give patients timely access to care and a choice about services rendered—the SMA allows for both.”

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