Have you ever heard of shared medical appointments?

What would it feel like to sit in a room full of strangers (re: not doctors) and discuss that funny-looking skin thingy on the back of your neck, out-of-the-ordinary emotions, weight gain, post-holiday surge in cholesterol, or that thing-I-shouldn’t-mention-here?

Blabbering through your litany of health issues in front of others is a growing trend in healthcare thanks to something called shared medical appointments (SMAs).

What is a Shared Medical Appointment?

First off, let's talk about what these are.

Shared medical appointments are when a group of people with a similar chronic condition – such as diabetes, asthma, or hypertension – are all seen for follow-up care or some sort of management care, all at the same time. The idea is that patients are grouped by common needs, and can benefit from peers going through the same issues.

These appointments are often longer than normal doctor appointments (maybe 90 minutes at a time) to accommodate the group.

The thing is, SMAs are being sold as a way to save money for both patients and doctors. I'm not sure I'm buying it though…

Will Revealing the Innards of My Health in a Room Full of Strangers Save Me Money?

Shared Medical Appointments

Cartoon courtesy of Cartoon Resource.

I am all about cutting expenses when there's not much sacrifice involved.

But in this case, the savings seem to be more of the unsexy “eat your vegetables” variety:

  • More Exposure to Doctors = Less Serious/Expensive Healthcare Costs Later: The idea is that since you will have much more face time with a doctor (or nurse practitioner) in a 90-minute group session than you normally get with a 10-30 minute individual session, you will learn more health information and avoid serious medical conditions down the road.
  • Greater Accountability to Help You Maintain Good Health Habits: Since it is part group therapy session and part doctor appointment, people report following through much more with their exercise and other health goals, leading to overall better health (thus costing less down the road).

Where don't you see savings by making an SMA? The cost and copay of the doctor appointment.

Amazingly, even though you do not get a private session with the doctor, you typically still have to pay the same copay and appointment costs. This leads me to believe that the cost savings (er…profit) is on the doctors' side, because now they can herd together a group of patients with the same conditions into one money-making session.

My Own Experience with Shared Medical Appointments

Now that I think about it…I’ve actually gone to several SMAs over the last few years. Sort of, anyway.

At my old office job we had to get annual physical exams. The first year I worked there we were given an afternoon to go downtown with a specific physician to do the exam, which included a trip elsewhere for the blood work and x-rays. I was totally cool with that.

Then they switched it up on us to save costs.

They brought in a mobile health facility and parked the unit in the back lot for a week. Suddenly I had to wait outside of doctor’s rooms (aka client meeting rooms turned into doctor's offices) with coworkers, chat it up with team members while anticipating needles in areas generally set aside for presentations, and remove articles of clothing a closed-door away from our team leaders.

It was…awkward.

Then a month later when the results came back, the doctor addressed a room of about 100 of us. We were each handed our individual results (in manila envelopes) while the doc focused on one thing to teach us such as preventing hypertension. Usually he remarked on the overall health of the group (apparently we were eating too many cheeseburgers and refried beans), and then he asked if we had any questions.

True, the doc made himself available afterwards for a period of time if we had any questions we wanted to ask in private.

But the whole thing just left me uncomfortable.

After two years of going through this, I opted to instead go through the process I previously did where I could privately see my doctor without familiar faces and awkward work/personal conversations while waiting to get blood drawn (did I mention we had to bring a urine sample to work as well?). I know it was considered “special treatment”, but I just didn’t think I should have to go through this private process so openly.

Now we know how I feel about SMAs. Granted, they don’t entail people being examined in their undies in front of a group of people, all patients typically have to sign a waiver of confidentiality because of the sharing of private medical information among everyone, and you generally aren't in a group together with coworkers or other people that you know.

But you won't see me scheduling one anytime soon. Would you sign up for one if it was available?

Health insurance tips: Would you ever consider shared medical appointments to save money on healthcare? Here's my experience with a Shared medical appointment, and a bit more about what they are, who could benefit from them, etc. medical bills | labor and delivery | hospital #health #healthcare #pregnant #labor

4 replies
  1. Crystal
    Crystal says:

    Nope. I just wouldn’t be okay with group med stuff at all. I’m fine with having the blood pressure and even blood being taken around others, but I’m not talking about my specific problems around other patients. Nope.

    Reply
  2. Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia
    Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia says:

    My wife has SMA’s for her pregnancy. Her doctor, while not an obstetrician, specializes in pregnancy and usually has quite a few pregnant patients. So, she sees them all for 1.5-2 hour group appointments every month (every 2 weeks as the due date approaches). The majority of these SMA’s are spent discussing and doing group activities. Each mom-to-be gets a few minutes of 1-to-1 time with the doctor to ask any questions and quickly go over her most recent measurements. I went with for most of these SMA’s on our first pregnancy, but I’m not bothering this time around. Why? It’s an inefficient waste. It’s basically 2 hours worth of non-value adding discussion and just a few minutes of worthwhile interaction.

    Reply
    • FruGal
      FruGal says:

      Interesting, Mr. Utopia. I hadn’t heard of SMAs for pregnancy appointments. Does your wife have an option to have a regular appointment instead? How does she like SMAs?

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us!

      Reply

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