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Primary care group visits may be key to boosting patient satisfaction


For primary care physicians struggling to accommodate a heavy patient volume, shared medical appointments may offer a potential solution, according to a recent study.

For primary care physicians struggling to accommodate a heavy patient volume, shared medical appointments (SMAs) may offer a potential solution, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

The study compared the experience of patients at a large, multispecialty practice from January 2008 to December 2010. During the course of the three-year study, the researchers sent questionnaires to patients one week after their visit, asking them to rank their satisfaction on a scale of “very good” to “very poor.” They received a total of 34,619 responses from patients who received typical, one-on-one primary care visits and 981 responses from patients who opted for SMA visits.

The SMAs lasted 90-minutes and were tailored toward chronic illnesses and other general issues. About ten patients would attend the sessions, and they would meet with a care team consisting of a primary care physician, a behaviorist, and a documentation specialist.

The results showed that SMA patients were more likely to rate their experience as “very good” when compared to standard patient visits. SMA patients also rated their care as “more accessible.”

“In our study, the fact that SMA patients reported greater sensitivity to their needs aligns with our observation that the SMA group also reported better overall satisfaction compared with usual care peers,” the authors wrote. “This finding, in line with prior literature, suggests that particular elements of the SMA model such as eliciting each patient’s specific agenda for the visit, requesting discretion regarding matters discussed in the group setting or the supportive role of the behaviorist, may serve to directly engage patients’ needs.”

However, patients who received one-on-one visits with their physician were more likely to rate their communication with their physician better than SMA patients. This finding lead authors to the conclusion that physicians will likely need additional training in how to conduct effective group visits.

“A robust patient-clinician relationship is the foundation to effective delivery of primary care, so sustained use of SMAs will depend on clinicians’ ability to engage and nurture the patient in the group setting,” the study concludes.

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