London, UK—More and more patients in the UK could be attending group consultations with their doctors, instead of 1:1 appointments. The sessions have been trialled across the UK in recent years and are set to be rolled out in further areas, potentially becoming the default option offered by some surgeries.
Groups of up to 15 patients with the same long-term condition will visit a single doctor. They may only interact with the doctor for a few minutes, but the overall session can last for nearly two hours and is led by a trained ‘facilitator’ (receptionist, clerk or healthcare assistant) who can offer health advice. It’s also a chance for patients to talk about their condition with each other. Feedback from the trials in the UK, which includes patients with conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and obesity, has so far been positive.
Doctors from the trial have described the process as more ‘efficient’ as it reduced the amount of time spent repeating advice. Patients have also said it was beneficial to talk to other people in the same situation, who understood the burden of managing the same disease. When visiting the doctor, patients nowadays want, and expect, help with more than just managing the physical symptoms of their disease – they want help in dealing with the mental strain that comes with it. The group sessions offer just that - an engaged patient community offering advice, encouragement and support to each other.
That said, some UK patient groups have voiced concerns, arguing that appointments with a physician should remain private and that group sessions with strangers would make people feel uncomfortable. The UK National Health Service (NHS) has stressed that patients will still be offered the choice of a 1:1 appointment if they prefer and that any discussion during the meeting is completely confidential.
Why This Matters—
Of course, the main reason for the pilot is to save time and resources, alleviating the strain on family doctors, many of whom complain of being overworked. Healthcare systems across the globe are stretched. The NHS in the UK is at a £960 million deficit, and the US could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030.
As governments look for new ways to service patients while limiting spending, we’ll continue to see changes in patient-doctor interactions, from video appointments on a smartphone to group patient sessions. Group appointments have already been established in the US and Australia, and there’s an opportunity for marketers to support this trend as further markets adopt the concept. Optimizing these new healthcare interactions will require new tools and techniques — from new physician discussion tools for more collaborative conversations to online platforms that to continue the group conversation beyond the office.