Zara Aziz: The possible benefits of group appointments

Timely access to mental health services is a key issue for so many of our patients and group therapy is often used - successfully in many cases - to reduce long waiting times.

However many of my patients often show reluctance when offered group therapy and I can certainly see their point of view. It takes courage as it is to open up to one stranger let alone a group.

It was with surprise therefore that I read a recent story in the news from America. The American Academy of Family Physicians reported that 10% of its physicians were offering group appointments for all kind of medical conditions, particularly chronic problems like diabetes, asthma and pain.

On the face of it this sounds bizarre and unethical: what of patient choice and confidentiality? And I can’t see the average Brit falling for this cheap ploy of a group visit, although I can see obvious advantages for some patients, GPs and our austerity-driven chancellor.

I accidentally tried this American model last week.

It was after half-term and Bristol’s kids should happily have been at school - except that many of them were off sick and in our waiting room sporting various viral contagions. I called in Daisy a flushed 17 year old who was accompanied by another rosy-cheeked girl.

Never one to assume kinship of any kind, I asked the obvious.

‘Are you two together?’

‘Yes,’ replied Daisy, but did not elaborate, whilst her friend remained silent.

Ten minutes later and I was done with Daisy and pleased that the spectre of antibiotics had also been avoided. As Daisy exited ‘Rosy’ stayed. I was confused.

‘I’m next. I have all the same symptoms. Can you just look in my throat and let me know if I need antibiotics or not? I have a bus to catch.’ She was being uber efficient.

Five minutes later and ‘Rosy’ was about to exit too. As I handed her an antibiotics script, I asked randomly.

‘Is Daisy waiting for you outside?’

‘I wouldn’t know. I only met her for the first time in the waiting room. We thought it would be quicker to come in together. And it was. We’ve saved you five minutes!’

She flashed a bemused smile at my bewildered look as she closed the door behind it.

  • Dr Aziz is a GP in Bristol

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