Getting Healthier—Together!

The latest trend in diabetes care? Group medical visits! Find out what to expect and how you can benefit.

Melba Newsome
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Lucia Fitzgerald is a bit particular about her privacy. So when she learned that her doctor was seeing diabetes patients together, in shared medical appointments, she thought, You’ll never catch me in one of those.

But Lucia was persuaded by a friend to give it a try—and hasn’t regretted her decision. In fact, she now prefers this format to one-on-one visits. “Having a chronic illness can be isolating until you’re in a group with others who are experiencing the same issues,” says Lucia. “It was like being in a 12-step support group, with the added bonus of medical advice and care.”

Like Lucia, an increasing number of patients and their healthcare providers are making the switch to group medical appointments, or alternating them with their single-person doctor visits. And the results are promising: A recent analysis, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that group medical visits helped significantly reduce hemoglobin A1C, or HbA1C, in people with diabetes. (The HbA1C test checks that diabetes is under control.)

Here’s what you can expect from a group medical visit.

A routine visit plus!
Group visits can last as long as two hours, with as many as a dozen patients. In addition to your doctor, the group may include other professionals, such as a diabetes educator, nurse practitioner, mental health therapist and a nutritionist. But you can still expect a weight and blood pressure check, blood sugar monitoring and a foot exam.

A safe, open forum.
Patients who participate in group appointments are asked to sign waivers pledging to keep information disclosed by others confidential. And, remember, everyone is dealing with similar challenges of having diabetes!

Shared experiences.
The support and motivation you receive by hearing others’ stories of struggles and successes can be invaluable. “I got answers to questions I would not have otherwise thought to ask,” says Lucia. “One patient asked why her blood sugar was always so high first thing in the morning, and the doctor explained about the ‘dawn effect’ and how to deal with it.”

In-depth information.
Yes, you may be sharing hours with a group, but that extra time lets your healthcare provider cover more ground, says Cristy Page, MD, who facilitates group appointments at the UNC Family Medicine Center in Chapel Hill, NC. “Patients like the mutual support, information sharing, involvement in their care and additional time with providers. It’s a win-win.”

November 2013