Group visits in health care, particularly primary care, are not a new thing. They have been around for quite a while, although the number of physicians using them has been small, largely because of reimbursement issues and the fact that group visits represent a different way of thinking about patient care than the traditional, one-to-one exam room visit.

Why patients would desire group visits that include other patients is open to speculation. Some research shows that in situations that involve patients with the same chronic disease, group visits provide a high level of satisfaction.

For instance, patients can learn from each other as well as the provider and can perhaps feel less encumbered to ask questions and share experiences. They may also be able to get other services for their disease such as nutrition counseling. Group visits also allow the physician to be less involved in the care potentially, which can reduce costs for the organization and insurer, and these costs could over time be passed onto patients in the form of lower premiums or reduced co-pays.

Primary care providers may see a greater move to group visits for some patients as an efficient way to treat large numbers of chronic disease patients. In situations where access is a problem, one two-hour group visit may remove the need for 10 individual 20-minute visits that can clog up the practice work schedule. In situations where provider payment becomes more fixed for certain population groups, group visits may allow a practice to see more patients, gain more fixed reimbursement for those patients, and yet still deliver on the care promise.

Timothy Hoff

Professor of Management, Healthcare Systems, and Health Policy; Visiting Associate Fellow, Oxford University