Do Group Visits Make Sense for Your Practice?

To provide greater access to healthcare providers, some practices have started offering group visits or “shared medical appointments.” And the trend seems to be catching on. Between 2005 and 2010, the percentage of practices offering group visits doubled from 6 percent to 13 percent.

While a group setting for a medical-related discussion may seem awkward at face value, the majority of patients who’ve tried it don’t seem to mind. In fact, about 85 percent of those patients who gave shared medical appointments a try chose not to go back to individual visits.

So does the concept of shared medical appointments make sense for your practice? To determine whether or not you should implement them, ask yourself the following questions:

Would Group Visits Help My Patients and Fulfill Their Needs?

This type of visit works best for patients with chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure who are actively working to manage their health, or for those who need ongoing support and monitoring, such as patients with weight-loss goals. The format also lends itself well to educational topics like skin cancer awareness and sun safety.

Would My Patients Find Value in Group Visits? Would I Benefit from Seeing Multiple Patients at Once?

The benefits are extensive. Physicians who offer group visits herald the efficiency of them, as they don’t have to repeat the same healthcare information during multiple patient exams. Instead, they can provide education and in-depth information during one appointment, which improves the overall quality of care for a number of patients while also decreasing costs. At the same time, patients enjoy the support, motivation, and accountability offered by other people in the group. They benefit from having the opportunity to share their experiences and learn from one another.

There hasn’t been any research done on a national level to show the effect on health outcomes. But anecdotally, patients’ results are on par with those seen individually. And those who attend group visits often feel more informed and more in charge of their health.

Do I Have the Tools and People Necessary to Execute Group Visits Successfully?

Group visits require a different kind of preparation than individual appointments. To start, you’ll need to decide on a topic or medical condition to address, schedule the meetings, and spread the word to the applicable patients. If you need to bring in additional health professionals, such as a nutritionist or behaviorist, arrange for those educators to attend and present relevant information. You should also educate your staff on what group visits are, how they can help patients, and how to coordinate the meetings and billing. Once everyone is on board and up to speed, your practice will likely experience increased levels of efficiency and patient satisfaction—a win-win.

Will I Be Able to Bill the Visits Appropriately?

Just because the appointment includes more than one person doesn’t mean patients should have to forgo individual attention from their physician. Be sure to conduct an evaluation for each patient, either separately or within the group meeting, as part of the process.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, if you choose to perform group visits, you should document and code for the services provided using “applicable, existing, evaluation and management (E/M) codes found in Current Procedural Terminology (CPT).” Most insurers cover shared medical appointments, but it’s a good idea to contact payers ahead of time to get specific coding instructions in writing and also verify coverage.

If you answered yes to the above questions, then group visits may be a great option for your practice. With the right preparation on the front end and the right billing process on the back end, you’ll be in a good position to offer high-quality care to your patients through shared medical appointments.

 

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