Group Visit Model and Leveraging Time: Rewiring Practice Success
“Consumer-driven health care is becoming more relevant and driving new models of care delivery. Now, more than ever, consumers are looking to ‘own’ their health and are developing a trusted partnership with their doctors in medical decisions.”
You might guess that this quote came from one of the current leaders in integrative medicine. You would be incorrect. It’s a quote from the American Hospital Association’s annual conference earlier this year.
The times, they are changing! Although the “who” that delivered the message above might elevate one’s eyebrows, the message is familiar to all of us involved in integrative medicine. This increased consumer demand for high-touch, quality care can feel unpredictable, can be challenging to the ways in which we currently practice and can make patients appear to have unrealistic expectations. But do they?
“New models of care delivery” are required, or we are destined to feel like we are perpetually running a marathon up a steep grade while still not fulfilling the nation’s health care needs. This quote also implies that the inertial resistance to change in health care is slowly breaking down. Integrative health care practitioners in solo practice, interdisciplinary group practice, as well as integrative universities and practitioner organizations, are ploughing through and paving the way with new models of practice as well as new foundational health and wellness mindsets that drive these practice models. One of the new practice models we’ve observed works well for small practices, as it maximizes your most precious and limited resource: your time. Leveraging your time not only allows patients more of what they want, but also makes perfect business sense (and is good for one’s sanity as well).
A group-visit model can help hack your time and expand your reach. This model can help fulfill the needs and concerns of your patients and utilizes a tool that practitioners don’t often consider—the power of human connectedness when sharing a common experience.
A few benefits of a successful group-visit model:
- Increased time and volume. Group visits emphasize lifestyle medicine change for shared conditions. Your wellness messages are delivered one time, to many.
- Increased revenue. At the same time, reduced costs per patient and increased reach to a larger demographic.
- Group power. Support and accountability improves outcomes and finds an outlet that helps satisfy the increasing demands of today’s informed patients.
There are two primary group-visit models:
- Condition specific shared experiences like syndrome/diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc.
- Outcome specific goal-driven endeavors such as weight loss, detoxification, etc.
Financial models can be much more complicated. Or maybe they just seem that way because we have historically just focused on patient care. Some insurance companies are reimbursing for the group visit, and if you don’t bill insurance, this is an excellent opportunity to leverage your time to drive greater cash flow.
One busy pediatrician, one of the only integrative docs in her area, used the group-practice model to even do her well-child visits! On a monthly basis (the frequency could depend on practice volume), she would hold well-child hours for a specific age group (for this example, let’s say a six-month visit). She would first meet with all moms and children (roughly 10 in a group format) for the first 30 minutes. She would review milestones for the age, answer questions from the moms that addressed common concerns, like food introduction, and discussed what would occur at the visit that day (immunizations, check-ups, etc.). Then, she would step into a private room and mother/child pairs would go in one by one for their individual checkups (with a medical assistant to do some initial intake). Meanwhile, the rest of the moms and children had a playgroup, supported by either education (like a nutritionist or lactation consultant (for infant age groups)) or for older children, a musician, storyteller, etc.
This doctor built community around her like-minded patients, provided added value in a creative way, and was able to see 10 patients in only a few hours by consolidating the teaching time and leaving the one-on-one patient model only for the things that had to be done that way.
Financially? Typically, a well-child visit takes about 45 minutes. Back to back, and with a 30-minute lunch, this is a full day. With the group-visit model, this time is consolidated to about 15 minutes per patient (one-on-one time), plus 30 minutes in the group setting, totaling about three hours. Meanwhile, patients walk away feeling like they got so much more than they would have in the traditional office setting. A win-win!
In closing, let us reconsider the form and function of our role in this evolving health care system we find ourselves a part of and not limit our pursuits or creative endeavors to those that are familiar. Embrace different!
Julie Beck, DC, MS, CSCS