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Improve Medical Practice Efficiency by Offering Group Visits


Want to save time and boost reimbursement at your medical practice? Offer shared medical visits. Here's how.

As reimbursement declines and overhead increases, many practices are struggling to keep up. But rather than attempting to squeeze more patient visits into each day, has your practice considered seeing more patients per visit?

Perhaps it should. The number of practices offering group visits has increased from about two percent to three percent just two years ago to about 10 percent this year, practice management consultant Owen Dahl recently told Physicians Practice.

Here's more on how a group visit works, what it entails, and why your practice may want to consider it.

How a group visit works. During a group visit, multiple patients with similar chronic conditions (such as diabetes, osteoporosis, congestive heart failure, or COPD) meet at the same time with their physician and other appropriate staff.  The visit is held in a private area in the practice, such as a conference room.

The visits may include the following components:
• The taking of vital signs;
• An educational piece, such as a 30-minute discussion with a nutritional counselor, dietician, exercise physiologist, podiatrist, or an ophthalmologist;
• A group discussion, during which patients talk with each other about their particular needs, struggles, challenges, lessons learned, and so on; 
• And an individual assessment, during which the physician pulls patients out of the group individually for private exams.

"You see these 15 patients in an hour and half, so you're very efficient there," said Dahl. "The other thing that happens is you free up time slots on your schedule to see other patients."

How a group visit is reimbursed.  After the group visit, the practice bills the appropriate visit (99213 or 99214) for each patient that attends. "You don’t bill based on time, you bill based on the criteria for the level of visit they had," said Dahl, noting that documentation must support the level of code.

How a group visit benefits patients. Group visits provide patients with a support group facing similar issues, and they give patients an opportunity to receive more in-depth education about their condition. That often translates to better outcomes, said Dahl.

"You're actually improving patient care, and I say that with some conviction," he said. "The research that’s been done indicates clearly that there’s a positive outcome with patients being more compliant with their treatment plans ... seeking care, getting involved. There are all of these spinoff benefits that come together."

How a practice can get involved. Assess your patient population to determine if you have enough patients with similar chronic conditions for which a group visit would be beneficial. Then, determine if enough of your patients would participate, said Dahl.

If you determine that a group visit is something you can and should offer, promote it to patients through one-on-one discussions, handouts, and if applicable, on your practice's website or patient portal.

Before the visit, require all participants to sign group-visit specific HIPAA forms noting that they understand that they will be talking about personal health information with other patients, and stating that they will keep the information shared during the group visit confidential. 

Do you offer group visits at your practice? What tips would you share with other physicians?


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