Here is a scenario you might be familiar with. You have waited a week to see your GP. As you sit there in the waiting room, having read all the health related literature on the practice walls, scrolled through your phone multiple times and glared at the receptionist for the umpteenth time, you look down at your watch and sigh. Your GP is running late again and you have no choice but to wait.
Your GP finally appears and calls you in and asks what the problem is. No sooner have you sat down and taken your coat off, you find yourself being ushered out the door having used up your 10 minute quota. Quite rightly peeved, you leave with the other 4 items on your list unanswered and for which you have been advised to book another appointment. You only just managed to book this one, you think to yourself. Frustration and uncertainty biting, you wonder if anything will ever change.
You imagine a world where you could have your GP for longer. Imagine being able to spend a whole hour with them, learning all there is to learn about living with your specific condition or challenge, working with your doctor to scope out the solutions to those problems and asking them anything and everything you have been desperately searching Dr Google for? Could such a system ever exist and would it be enough?
Sometimes there can be a disconnect between the doctor and the patient. This is not because the doctor doesn’t understand the physiology of the disease in question but there are times where the doctor perhaps hasn’t experienced life to really “get it.” Something I hear time and time again is patients yearning to meet like-minded people who really understand the struggle, the pain, the disability, the anxiety or whatever reality their particular diagnosis is putting them through.
The 35-year-old male doctor won’t necessarily understand how debilitating menopausal symptoms can be. Similarly, only someone living with years of chronic pain will truly empathise with another sufferer and that connection is often more powerful a tonic than any drug that doctors could prescribe. People with long term conditions such as diabetes, COPD, heart disease, obesity, depression, cancer to list a few, deserve the time to learn about their conditions in a time-protected, stress-free environment but they also deserve benefit from, and in some instances crave, the insight and experience from those who are also going through the same journey.
This is a dream model of care and does exist in many parts of the world and it could be making its way to a practice near you. Such appointments are known as “group consultations” and are one to one medical appointments, delivered by a clinician to a group of patients with similar health issues. Studies have shown multiple benefits where patients are a lot more informed and engaged in their care, are happier and more satisfied and the doctor’s time is made more efficient. Everyone feels they have been listened to and leave inspired, empowered and transformed to make a positive step forward. This really is true personalised care!
From my personal GP point of view, group consultations seem like a breath of fresh air. We become doctors to make a positive difference to people’s lives but often I find that whilst I do help my patients, the real magic happens when people connect with their “tribe” and when patients and doctors work together in partnership. I guess that is why online forums, support groups, chatting to friends and family help – because the doctor only gets to see a “snapshot” of your life. We tell you the diagnosis, the problem, the management, but you need to figure out how to live a longer, healthier and happier life.
On a more selfish note, I really hope to incorporate this model of care into my practice because I would love to spend more time with my patients. I’d love to grow, develop a deeper understanding, and have more to offer future patients as a result of being a part of this collaborative, enriching learning experience. Ten minutes is never enough, medication is not the only improver, and running late is also a right pain in the neck.