Health Beat: Group doctor visits?

Group Doctor Visits

SAN DIEGO - They walk in, shake your hand, check your heart, and before you know it — your time with the doctor is up.

Patients at UC San Diego, however, are testing a new way to see their doctor, with a 90-minute group visit.

"For me, this is about giving patients a choice, giving patients access to me as a physician," said Dr. Alexander Kuo, director of hepatology, UC San Diego Health System

Kuo calls one patient at a time to the front of the room for an exam. The rest of the group watches, listens and asks questions.

"They're looking for just more resources, more information, and more help in dealing with their illness," Kuo said.

The group meets every four to six weeks in addition to their private appointments. The pilot program offers patients better access to their doctors and each other. 

"They have a lot of shared knowledge and they can teach each other from their shared experiences," Kuo said.

A recent study showed physicians are seeing fewer of their patients. Doctors in training spent just eight minutes a day with each patient. That's about only 12 percent of their time, but they spent almost half of their days in front of a computer screen. 

Christy Dickson-Johnston suffered acute liver failure last year. She decided to try a group visit. She said having the support of her doctor and the other patients helped her cope.

"You're not alone. It's so wonderful. You're sitting there, and you go, 'Oh, I feel that, too,'" Dickson-Johnston said.

It's a new idea that could change the way you see your doctor.

Typically, between five and seven patients attend Kuo's group visits. They can also bring a guest. At this time, UC San Diego offers the group appointments to patients with diabetes, liver disease and HIV.

Some places offer group visits instead of private appointments, but Kuo emphasizes that his group visits are in addition to regular exams. There is no extra charge, just the regular copay.

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