Combine and Conquer: Patients Unite through Shared Medical Appointments (SMA)

By Mark Harris
October 24, 2019

Over the last several years, an increasing number of healthcare providers have been offering a form of group physician visit known as a shared medical appointment (SMA).

An SMA brings together patients sharing a common medical condition or concern for an extended medical visit. Participants receive both individual care and the group session during which they can ask questions and take part in a discussion facilitated by clinicians.

One of the pioneers using the SMA model is the Cleveland Clinic, which has run such groups since 1999. The Clinic runs 90-minute sessions. Executives there say that group sessions offer social support for patients with shared conditions.

Another organization that has implemented SMAs is the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, a multispecialty healthcare provider with offices clustered around San Francisco. The Foundation prepares for SMAs in advance, asking patients to complete a short questionnaire, answering questions, and conducting medication reconciliation before the visit.

Like any other innovative approach, the SMA may not work for all patients. However, for some it has proven to offer satisfying experiences and higher quality care.

Even when they visit a specialist, patients seldom have the chance to communicate with others that share their condition. Such patients may have access to some social support online, and that can be helpful, but it isn’t a substitute for face-to-face communication. Given these circumstances, it’s no surprise that SMAs work very well for some people.

On the other hand, running an SMA program may impose a greater burden on your practice than you can support. As the examples above illustrate, preparing for an SMA effectively takes staff time away from other duties, which you may not be able to spare. Also, it’s likely to take some experimentation before you come up with an SMA model that suits your practice and has the greatest clinical impact.

All that being said, it’s worth investigating the SMA format to see if your patients would benefit from it. Any step you can take that improves care quality, boost outcomes, and raises patient satisfaction can’t be a bad thing.

Reference: CMA Today 

Topics: Management

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