A short introduction to being seen by your doctor or nurse in a group rather than a short one to one consultation.
Group consultations (or group clinics) are a way of getting healthcare with others rather than on your own. There are a number of different ways of doing this, but the key is there is more time to discuss your problems, share the burden and solutions. People find this and enjoyable and empowering way to get treatment. In general practice the usual way of doing this is called a ‘shared medical appointment’.
About ten years ago, an American called David Sobel came to Northumbria Healthcare and spoke about the benefits of seeing patients this way. He made it clear that this was high quality care, but could also be very efficient, so I was intrigued: I do a lot of teaching, so I was pretty sure I had the skills needed. Three of us tried this way of consulting, but only our clinics for inflammatory arthritis really worked (not surprising, as we had no training!). After a couple of pilot clinics, we presented the data at the national British Society for Rheumatology meeting and won an Innovation in Development prize for it, which was exciting and helped persuade our commissioners to commission the service for two community hospitals, where we have been running monthly group clinics since 2010.
Patients have been really positive (rating them 10/10 across a whole range of questions) and 40% of my follow up patients are seen this way now. People are quite nervous about trying group consultations, but once they have tried it, almost everyone will try it again. We average 17 patients per clinic and always finish within 2 hours. I honestly believe we deliver better, more accessible care- I can see new patients every month until they reach low disease activity or remission (and 40% of all the patients do). Patients who are struggling with a flare know they can ring my secretary and see me personally together with other team members in the group clinic quickly or the nurse in a normal clinic, so that helps too. Two of my colleagues have also started their own group clinic, focusing initially on just early disease and the results are even better- 56% in remission by six months. When I share this experience with our patient support groups, more than 90% want to try group consultations.
In short, yes. There are lots of studies, especially from the USA, which show group consultations deliver care that is at least as good and often better quality, as well as being more efficient. We have done a trial showing this works in UK primary care too and can be delivered by pharmacists and will submit the interview-based research on our clinics to be published very shortly. This shows patients are empowered by getting care this way and helps to spread our experience.
There are many benefits for both patients and clinicians, which can deliver effective and efficient care.
Not everyone likes the idea of being seen in a group, but the vast majority of those who try it actually prefer it. By increasing capacity as well as quality, group consultations can offer sooner access and better care. Regular consultations will still be available, so you have a choice. Our vision is to offer all patients that choice at their local surgery within five years. Your Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies and Dr Michael McDonnell, the Strategy Lead for NHS England, already share that vision.
You already are! Finding out about group consultations is the first step. We are keen to know how many people are keen to have access to care this way, so please leave any comments or feedback below, provide your contact details if you want to be involved in persuading GPs across the country being trained to do this and can share this with your friends & family.
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