Shared Appointments Showing Success For Diabetes Patients

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A trip to the doctor can now be a visit with a group of friends.

Shirley Tibbits never felt entirely comfortable with doctor's visits. She says she would draw back and not say what was on her mind to the doctors.

But now, after 55 years of living with Type 1 diabetes, she's thriving on a new approach called shared medical appointments.

Renee Johnson, APN, CDE with Cotton-O'Neil Diabetes Center in Topeka says shared medical appointments are office visits attended with other patients with the same disease. She started offering shared appointments to her patients in December.

Johnson says they start much like a typical appointment. A patient goes to an exam room for a physical assessment and medication review, then, about six to ten of them come together for a group discussion with the medical provider, followed by time with a diabetes educator, then a special guest, such as a dietician, a trainer or therapist.

Johnson says the sessions are informal and laid back with open conversation and question and answer throughout. She says they also include one-on-one time with a medical provider, which means individual attention plus opportunity to bring up anything they're not comfortable discussing with the group.

Studies show the approach is successful. Patients utilizing shared appointments have a 30 percent decrease in emergency room use, 20 percent drop in hospital admissions, and reduced obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol and A1C levels.

Johnson says the success comes from everyone going through the same thing. She says the group gives them confidence in managing their disease and is also a source of support that comes from the dynamic of a group setting.

Shirley hasn't missed a group appointment since they started. She says her levels have improved and she says she feels more accountable now.

Plus, she says she's found that, instead of thinking she faced the world alone with diabetes, that she has friends facing the same problems which has given her a boost.

Patients attend a mix of group and individual appointments, depending on their situation. The group sessions take about 90 minutes and Johnson says most insurance covers it like a regular appointment.

Besides Johnson, Dr. Susan Brian offers shared appointments at Cotton-O'Neil Diabetes Center and Dr. Alan Wynne is just starting them, too.