Doctor tries treating her patients in group sessions

CHAMPAIGN — Sometimes, a doctor just can't do everything she wants to do for her patients in 15 minutes.

So Dr. Ona Uzodike found a way to get some big chunks of time with her patients with chronic health conditions. She's offering the option of two-hour group appointments.

Uzodike, a Christie Clinic family medicine physician, began offering group appointments for patients in July, and is the only Christie doctor who has expressed interest in the group appointment concept so far, clinic spokeswoman Karen Blatzer said.

Uzodike said she wanted to try it because it takes time to explain things that can help patients with certain chronic conditions, and it's difficult to do in a typical 15-minute follow-up visit.

By creating three group appointment options — for patients with heart disease, diabetes or pre-diabetes and depression — she gets more time to explain things, and patients get time to ask her questions, she said.

Some patients come to just one group appointment and get what they need, she said.

"I've had some people who like the group environment, so they come back just for the group," she added.

Uzodike said she also spends time on individual concerns during the group appointments, but what people disclose about themselves in a group setting is up to them.

"It's a regular visit with me, but there's just more people there," she said.

Patients at group appointments do sign privacy waivers promising not to disclose information about other patients in the group, Uzodike said.

The emphasis is on giving patients information to help them lead healthier lives, she said.

"You want people to get better, not taking medication year after year," she said.

Patients are charged their normal copayment for a group visit, and all patients are welcome to come to a group appointment as long as they see her first for an individual appointment, Uzodike said. Coming to one of her group appointments doesn't require switching primary care doctors, she added.

She conducts one of these group appointments once a week, and "so far so good," the doctor said. "It's a new thing. It's new for the staff. It's new for the patients."

The only issue so far is getting some patients to take that much time away from work and come to a two-hour doctor's appointment, Uzodike said.

"They don't understand the concept," she added.

Comments

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aantulov wrote on September 23, 2012 at 9:09 am

Great idea. Could you please publish her reduced rates to patients, her salary and the profit margin of the company she works for. Oh, the rates are not reduced....

amf wrote on September 23, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I don't understand your point about reduced rates.  Office visits are typically held in 15 minute sessions.  In two hours' time, this doctor would normally see 8 patients.  Instead of seeing those 8 patients back to back, and having little time to really give information or address questions, this doctor will see them all together where the information and questions that are common to all patients with the condition can be addressed in detail and not rushed.  If fewer than 8 patients attend the session, then the doctor actually "loses" money (compared to the 8 appointments she could have billed in those 2 hours running a typical appointment schedule).

Her salary is probably set independently of the type of appointment schedule she uses. 

Profit margin for healthcare is certainly an important thing to look at, but I doubt these group appointments are or are meant to be a money-making machine.  Also, presumably patients with more information and who have had their questions answered will have better outcomes than those without.  In the long run, this could even stand to reduce business at Christie.

I appreciate seeing a health care provider trying to give better care to patients.  Even if by some scheme it ended up making extra money for the provider, that doesn't change the potential benefit this could have for patients.  I like it.  If I had one of these conditions, I would definitely attend a 2 hour session so that I could ask my questions of an actual doctor instead of asking the internet, which is what most people do (myself included!).