Would you share your GP appointment with others? It might seem like an unlikely situation, but trials are already taking place in England where patients share GP appointments, saving time and providing answers to questions individual patients might not have thought of. It’s possible this could be a solution to increasing waiting times for patients and the growing workload of GPs. How would the process work and what do patients think of them – is it for everyone?
About shared GP appointments
The concept of shared GP appointments involves groups of up to 15 patients, who all have the same condition, sharing an appointment with their GP. It’s an idea that has been trialled in the US before, but is being used more and more in England.
Patients suffering from conditions such as chronic back pain, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis can attend appointments together, where they can benefit from shared support and receive the same advice for managing conditions.
What do patients think?
Some patients who have been taking part in shared appointment trials have so far been positive about their experiences, describing them as ‘useful.’ At the beginning of the sessions, patients are reminded about confidentiality, and over time patients get to know each other. This helps provide additional support to patients who are suffering from difficult or painful conditions.
Could group appointments soon be the norm?
There are currently around 300 shared GP sessions taking place in England, which last up to 2 hours. According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, some of the benefits for patients include:
- Improved access to care and improved quality
- More time with the doctor for more relaxed care
- Peer support from those who share similar symptoms and conditions
- Multidisciplinary care from multiple providers
- Better education to aid self-management of conditions
Meanwhile, doctors benefit through:
- Increased productivity and time/cost effectiveness
- Being able to manage waiting lists better
- Moves care away from the existing fast-paced nature of appointments
- Developing better relationships with patients
- Assistance from the multi-disciplinary team and an opportunity to produce multi-disciplinary care plans
While there are a lot of advantages of shared GP appointments, they are not a method that is suitable for everyone. It is something that has worked in the past in situations such as antenatal classes, but this will be a more interactive process where patients can learn together and support each other.
Group GP appointments will be elective, and patients can choose whether or not to attend. One-to-one GP appointments will continue to exist, and remain the most important contact for patients to their doctor. Shared GP appointments will continue to be trialled in locations across England.
There are many resources available to help patients managing chronic symptoms. If you suffer from chronic pain, for example, NHS Choices have some detailed information on managing pain that could prove useful. In the first instance you should make a GP appointment to get the right diagnosis for your condition, and your GP may offer shared appointments as part of your treatment plan. Remember that your local out of hours services are available should you need assistance outside of regular practice hours.