Group appointments to the doctor

Another health story by the Boston Globe gives new meaning to the term group practice:

When Dr. Gene Lindsey arrived to see his 4 p.m. appointment on a recent Thursday, his nine patients already were seated on folding chairs arranged in a semicircle around a table of snacks. Lindsey, a cardiologist, shook each patient’s hand, rolled up his sleeves, and, for the next 90 minutes, examined them, one by one.

As he listened to lungs and hearts, he discussed their personal medical details out loud.

Since July, Lindsey has been seeing his Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates patients only in groups, formally called shared medical appointments. It’s part of an ambitious plan by Harvard Vanguard to ease physician shortages, and reduce patient and doctor dissatisfaction over constantly feeling rushed during appointments.

Many patients, it turns out, are willing to sacrifice privacy and modesty for improved access to doctors. Patients willing to see their doctor in a group visit generally can get appointments far sooner. And many pa tients have similar problems and questions, and can learn from one another in the group visits. If a particular examination requires that a patient disrobe, the doctor and patient move into a private room for that portion of the checkup.

Doctors don’t have to repeat the same information to patients individually throughout the day. And if the groups – offered in many specialties – are full, doctors make out better financially. Many insurers generally pay what they would if the doctor were seeing those patients individually. A doctor normally would see four to six patients in 90 minutes if he or she were seeing them one-on-one.

“It was fabulous,” said Nicholas Poly, an 80-year-old retired engineer who saw Lindsey during the Thursday group visit. “I have problems similar to what other people have. I get to hear their questions too, and that’s good.”

While many patients seem to like group appointments, they are clearly not for everyone.

Walter Kelly, 89, began seeing Lindsey five years ago after he got a pacemaker for his heart murmur. “I was mostly curious,” he said. “I am not an intensely private person so I don’t mind sharing these sorts of things.” But after attending two group visits, Kelly said he would rather see Lindsey individually if that were an option.

Harvard Vanguard found in a survey this year that 77 percent of patients who had attended one said they would do so again, 15 percent said they weren’t sure, and 5 percent said they would not schedule another group visit.

This could be useful for patients as well…just be careful.