Rainier Medical is excited to begin offering the option of Shared Medical Appointments as part of our medical weight management programs. Shared Medical Appointments (SMA) were first started about 10 years ago and are now a well-established, evidence based practice that offer many potential benefits to participants, including improved access to their physician, the benefit of counseling additional members of a health care team, and can share experiences and advice with one another. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) believes that group visits are a proven, effective method for enhancing an individual’s management of chronic conditions, satisfaction with care, and improved outcomes. I hope you are wondering more about them, because I would like to tell you more!
In a SMA, about 8 to 10 participants meet the physician for 60 to 90 minutes in a group setting. This type of visit can be done in person or virtually. These are voluntary and are typically used to address chronic disease management that heavily involves common themes, issues, and lifestyle factors, such as Type 2 Diabetes and, in this case, overweight/obesity. They include individual evaluation and management as well as counseling within the group as a whole. The individual evaluation can take place either separately or within the group process. During the visit, each person has their individual issues addressed while benefiting from the common experiences of the others in the group. Additionally, a portion of the visit is comprised of preventive counseling with a special offering, such as a nutrition, habit, or exercise topic. This may include a specialist in that area, such as a nutritionist or exercise trainer.
Potential benefits of shared medical appointments over an individual appointment are:
More time with the physician.
A typical individual appointment is about 15 minutes long. A shared medical appointment is 60 to 90 minutes long. As the physician discusses issues that affect one person in the group, the others tend to identify and benefit from the discussion as well since the chronic condition is shared
Learning from shared experiences with others.
Many people who participate in shared medical appointments for chronic disease management report they highly value the input of others who have a common experience. They report that while the physician may be trained in facts and knowledge on the disease, they also value the input and experience of others who have lived with the condition and may have had similar or different experiences and input. Many people research their condition alone, such as on the internet, which is essentially the same thing, but in this case, interaction can happen and in the presence of the physician to moderate and frame the input in the context of medical training, knowledge, and science.
Additional topics covered.
During a shared medical appointment, there is commonly a portion of the time devoted to a health counseling topic, such as nutrition, habits, activity or exercise. This may or may not involve another member of the team, such as a nutritionist, nurse, or exercise trainer. This is something that typically is not included during an individual appointment due to limited time.
Joint Medical Decision Making
The best treatment plans are ones that involve the individual in the decision making process. Due to the interactive and broader nature of the SMA, each participant tends to get a broader view of options informed by both medical advice and guidance and first hand experience.
Studies have shown that when a person feels a part of a group working toward a common goal, it is easier to remaing engaged and on the path. This is why group exercise classes can be so much easier to get to than just working out on your own. The healthier weight journey is a rugged and long one, and we all need partners and guides, especially through challenging times.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Shared Medical Appointments private?
The physician is bound by the same HIPAA guidelines, of course, as during individual appointments. The other participants have a voluntary agreement to keep information discussed private, but there is no legal authority or responsibility over the individuals in a group. Topics discussed tend to include lifestyle issues. My style is to defer the disclosure of any information to the participant. Most people have things they prefer to discuss in private, and those can be addressed in a separate visit or Ask Your Doctor electronic visit.
Does insurance cover this type of visit?
Yes, insurance covers shared medical appointments the same way they cover individual visits. The same codes are used, so there is no difference in cost.
How will these visits work?
At Rainier Medical, Dr. Sutherland has adapted the model to a process to fit within our program. The flow looks like this:
5 days or more before the SMA
Schedule a shared medical appointment using usual scheduling procedure
Enroll in Multicare MyChart if not already enrolled (we can do this with you)
3-5 days before the SMA
Obtain fasting labs, if due, typically every 3 to 6 months
1-2 days before the SMA
Check your MyChart for a message from the nurse and complete the questions, including:
Reviewing your medication list in MyChart and noting any changes/differences
Confirming your preferred pharmacy in MyChart
Relevant information from home, such as body weight, blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugars (if available, will be kept private)
Any questions you would like addressed, either individually or during the group
During the SMA
Log in to the visit in a private location with your audio and video on
Follow community guidelines
Arrive to the visit with a receptive mindset
Contribute to the group
Dr. Sutherland will not disclose personal health information, but rather will allow each individual to volunteer what they wish to discuss. For example, she will ask, “Does anyone have any questions, concerns, or thoughts on any of their medications?” Typically, a person who is comfortable discussing something like how they feel on semaglutide will ask a question that leads to conversation.
During the second half of the visit, there is an information portion/presentation that is interactive. We may also play weight management jeopardy for prizes as a fun way to cover topics!
After the visit
Communicate any follow up questions/concerns you may prefer to address individually. This is often done using “Ask Your Doctor” on MyChart.
Complete a follow up survey to help us improve and suggest topics you want covered
When are these visits?
Rainier Medical is offering this type of visit some weekday evenings from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. Reach out to us and let us know you’re interested!
Take Back Your Medical Appointments,
Valerie Hope-Slocum Sutherland, MD