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The GP practice where patients can share appointments

by ace
The GP practice where patients can share appointments

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People in the group "bonded" with the shared experience

Given a wait for a doctor's appointment, would you choose a group session with the doctor? It's an idea some surgeries are investigating.

Demand for appointments increasingly outpaces availability. In recent years, the number of medical appointments has increased by 13%, but the number of doctors has increased by less than 5%, putting pressure on surgery greatly.

In addition, many of us are living longer and with several long-term conditions, which can make appointments extremely complex.

The traditional 10-minute individual appointment is no longer suited to your goal.

With no promise of increased funding or a substantially expanded GP workforce, primary care teams need to find innovative new ways to deliver routine care in general practice that simultaneously saves time and improves quality.

One such practice is the Parchmore Medical Center in Thornton Heath, Surrey.

Anthony is a patient there. He says, "I passed that magical age of 50 and got a call from the GP. I have weight and blood pressure problems, so it's time to do something."

He had come for a compromise – but with a difference. Instead of the usual 10 minutes, he was going to have an hour and a half with his doctor.

But he would not see the doctor alone; He would share his appointment with six other patients.

"No one felt the need to hold back"

They all have weight problems and / or pre-diabetes. There were seven present at this specific appointment, but up to 15 may attend.

The session began with a doctor's assistant – the "facilitator" – collecting the patients' measurements and compiling a list of questions they wanted to ask the doctor.

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Dr. Williams is part of the BBC Two team, Trust Me I'm a Doctor

The test results – including body mass index (BMI), body measurements and blood pressure – were then written on a board in the room so that doctor Alex Maxwell could conduct a discussion around them.

The group also talked about sensitive issues such as bowel problems, food relationships and mental well-being.

The purpose of such sessions is to provide patients with more information about their condition because they learn from the doctor and each other, and to ensure that the GP's time is used efficiently.

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Anthony says it's not embarrassing to have other people in the room. "In fact, it was just the opposite – when the group started we almost formed a bond there and everyone was wide open, I don't think anyone felt the need to hold on."

Other patients said the group session meant more time with the GP than an individual consultation would allow, and sharing experiences with others with the same condition could be empowering.

But there are obvious fears. Could this be the finer end of the wedge – the beginning of the end of individual commitment?

Peer Support

Both the Royal College of GPs and the Patient Association say that while this type of scheme may work for some, patients should still have the option of traditional individual commitment if they wish.

Dr. Emily Symington of the NHS Croydon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which includes Parchmore Clinic, said there is no plan to end conventional appointments.

"Replacing individual commitment is certainly not something we aim to achieve or anticipate.

"Also, a group consultation is for patients who already have a diagnosis.

"No one will ever diagnose you in a group – that would not be appropriate. The group consultation adds something extra."

She says there are measures to ensure the confidentiality of information shared within the group, and assisting patients can still request and receive an individual consultation.

But group consultations can bring real benefits to patients who manage long-term health conditions – offering more access to their doctor with a valuable peer support network.

Trust me that I am a continuing doctor on BBC2 on Wednesdays at 20:00 GMT and is available on iPlayer.


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