Group work ‘facilitated by health professionals’ to help adult patients manage long-term conditions including arthritis, depression and asthma delivered 'significant benefits' according to research published in the British Journal of General Practice.
The findings come just six months after group consultations were praised for ‘reducing demand and improving efficiency’ at the 2018 RCGP conference.
The review of 14 studies spanning six countries and more than 2,500 participants found that adults experiencing long-term pain from conditions including osteoarthritis saw a ‘statistical improvement’ following group intervention compared with those who did not undertake group work.
Most studies reported improvements in psychological outcomes following group participation, including improvements in depression scores. There were also reports of ‘positive effects in anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness and some aspects of helping’ - although the authors noted that the impact of group intervention was often quite short-lived.
Group consultations had a strong impact on patient self care. The review found ‘statistically significant improvements’ in inhaler use, joint protection and exercise, capacity to ease pain, self-care in heart failure and overall self care and wellbeing - maintained for at least a year. Overall quality of life also saw a ‘significant’ improvement in patients taking part in group consultations.
The authors conclude: ‘This review supports the case that such groups are beneficial for individuals with the long-term conditions studied in improving pain, psychological symptoms, self care, self efficacy, and quality of life.
‘These results are potentially of interest to policymakers and providers. More work is needed in order to determine what specific elements are effective and at what "dose", but this review supports the case for more widespread use of group work in long-term conditions.’
The results come after delegates at the RCGP annual conference in October 2018 heard about how group consultations could prove empowering for both GPs and their patients.
Speaking at the event in Glasgow Dr Emily Symington - a GP and member of the governing body of Croydon CCG in south London - told delegates they were ‘kidding themselves’ if they thought long-term conditions could be managed effectively under the current 10-minute consultation model.
'If we’re going to start to address the tide of lifestyle conditions and long-term conditions we need to start thinking about what we can do differently,’ Dr Symington said. ‘For me, group consultations have started to address that. They address a lot of the challenges we grapple with on a day to day basis They reduce demand and improve efficiency.’
She added: ‘With a group consultation, because you’re seeing more people in one go you can see them more frequently, more quickly, it’s easier to provide continuity of care and accessibility [ for patients]... We have not yet had a single patient who has come out the other side of a group consultation and has not said it wasn’t a good thing.’
Figures from the King’s Fund show that there are roughly 15m people in England living with a long-term health condition. It is estimated that treatment and care for people with long-term conditions takes up around £7 in every £10 of total health and social care expenditure.