There is a sharing economy  out there that is quite helpful in saving money. I’ve detailed before my own family’s circle of savings  in which things like OTC medicines, shampoo, and chicken breasts have crossed state lines in order to save each of us money. When my grandmother flew down to visit us and we knew she could not possibly get in and out of our own vehicle, my great friend Helen and I switched vehicles for the week (hers an SUV that is much easier to get in and out of, ours a more low-lying, two-door car). There is an underground book-borrowing ring among my friends, and while working in an office we built up a pretty decent coupon-sharing system among cubicle mates.
Group Doctor Visits
Sharing and bartering  are great ways to make use of idle and unused resources in order to save everyone a bit of money.
But…what about with doctor appointments? If you knew that you would save money on your healthcare , then would you be willing to attend a shared medical appointment?
Let’s look at this a bit more closely.
What are Shared Medical Appointments (SMAs)?
Shared medical appointments, or SMAs, are group doctor visits with people who have a common problem. This could mean a SMA for patients with diabetes, or a SMA for patients with high cholesterol.
Benefits of SMAs
In a recent article in O the Oprah Magazine (January 2014) titled The Doctor Will See You…and You…and You Now…, appointment wait time for new bariatric patients who went to an SMA was only 25 days compared with 58 days for a personal appointment. Also, the cost of ER and Inpatient Charges for uninsured patients per month was only $230 for patients who used SMAs compared with $1,167 for patients who went to private appointments.
Time and money saved are only two of the benefits. There also seems to be some sort of group accountability factor that helps patients reach goals and work on bettering their health. For example, there were larger decreases in both weight and blood pressure for patients who used SMAs versus patients who had private doctor appointments in this article.
Things You Should Know about SMAs
Here are some additional tidbits of information you should know when considering whether or not you want to book an SMA:
- Same Co-Pay: You will be with a doctor in a group session for longer, but the copay will be billed the same as a private doctor appointment. On the other hand, even though there is more face time with a doctor, you won’t get a discount for sharing that appointment with others. Bummer! In fact, the article points out that doctors are able to squeeze in an average of 41 patients in nearly six hours (a 25-patient increase from individual appointments) and are still billing the same amount…you do the math.
- Mostly for Chronic Conditions: If you have something that is undiagnosed, then you will likely not be best served through an SMA. Instead, book a normal doctor appointment. However, for chronic conditions such as diabetes, skin cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, weight loss/weight issues, group sessions might be just the thing. Also, follow-up appointments offer a good opportunity for a group session (with others who are there for a similar condition follow-up).
- Not Every Office Offers SMAs: In fact, these types of appointments are not the norm.
- Your Appointment will Last Longer: While typical doctor appointments are between 15-30 minutes long (and sometimes most of that is with a nurse practitioner), SMAs run around 90 minutes long . So overall, you do get longer face time with a certified physician.
- Appointment May Be Offsite: More room is needed to house 10-15 patients, so your SMA could be at a different location (for example, the Cleveland Clinic has booked a location at the Ritz Carlton for an upcoming appointment).
- You May Be Led by a Nurse Practitioner: I suppose to cut costs even further, some sessions are led by nurse practitioners instead of an actual physician.
Personally, I’m a bit leery of shared medical appointments. I like for my health to remain private, and sometimes it makes me a bit queasy even just sharing with professionals who see these types of things every day. Do I think that these types of appointments are good for chronic conditions and follow-ups of private appointments for these conditions? I think there is room for that. But I am also equally concerned about this sort of thing becoming the norm in the future rather than just being for chronic, less serious conditions. Also, I must admit, I think the copay should cost less, as I am not seeing a physician privately.
What do you think about SMAs? Have you tried one out yet? Would you consider going to a group doctor visit?
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