Before the onset of COVID, Group Consultations were just starting to take off in Primary Care settings. Evidence from those Practices that have trialled them suggest they deliver multiple benefits for both clinicians and patients. Group Consultations can best be described as the delivery of individual 1:1 Personalised Care within a supportive peer group environment. They overcome the limitations of 10-minute GP consultations and allow patients to receive up to 90 minutes of relevant information and guidance for their conditions, in an environment shared by other patients with similar conditions.
With the social distancing measures imposed by COVID, group consultations have migrated online and are, like many other remote engagements, often delivered via Zoom or another online meeting platform.
By definition, digital group consultations cannot replicate the social engagement between patients that takes place during arrival at the venue and during the coffee break. Despite this limitation, the ability to see and talk to each other on screen, share circumstances with a supportive group, ask questions of the clinician and share the group exploration of addressing a common condition seems to create a strong bond between attendees. Careful and empathetic facilitation of the session often leads to attendees agreeing to share contact details with other patients for later communication, often in the form of a WhatsApp group or similar.
For the clinician the benefits are many. Often, with LTCs such as diabetes, clinicians find themselves offering the same advice and answering the same questions from multiple patients during individual routine appointments lasting around 15 minutes. A digital group consultation offering many more benefits to patients takes around 90 minutes, of which the clinician attends for around a hour. With 10 patients on the consultation, the clinician saves 1.5 hours of time while their patients receive a more enriching and educative experience than is possible in the 15 minute review.
Conditions Suitable for Digital Group Consultations
Digital Group Consultations can prove effective for a wide variety of conditions and can be hosted by GPs and by other Practice clinicians to help their particular patient cohorts. Evidence from case studies of face to face group consultations show particular efficacy for group consultations used with the following patient groups and conditions:
Post COVID Recovery
Chronic Asthma Management
Chronic Kidney Disease
Digital Group Consultations and Post-COVID-19 Recovery
The Sunday Telegraph recently reported that many post-COVID patients feel abandoned, and that despite experiencing debilitating symptoms they have been left to “fend for themselves”. There are increasing concerns about the long term health implications, both physical and mental, for those who have recovered from the acute phase of COVID, and the introduction of the ‘Your COVID Recovery’ service later in the Summer will go some way to address this. However, at a Practice level, the use of Digital Group Consultations can bring sufferers together from within the Practice community, and allow them to feel they are not alone in their journey. Particularly empowering for patients, it is also a great way for GPs to monitor and support the long term health of this particular patient cohort. Patient feedback has been highly encouraging. The following verbatim feedback was given by patients following a recent Digital Group Consultation on recovering from COVID that we facilitated in Middlesborough:
“Thought it was really good. Told people at work about it and how useful it was, and a way forward to do this more often in the NHS.”
“It was really good. Felt that I could totally relate to what other people were saying, that I didn’t feel on my own, and that I could share my experiences and what I had learnt in ways to cope with the breathlessness. “
“Really good! Nice to know that other people are in the same boat, that I don’t feel on my own and I could totally relate to what others were experiencing and feeling. Found it really informative.”
How to Take the Next Steps
Organising a group consultation, whether digital or face to face, requires a change in mindset within the Practice and the adoption of a new process. Once adopted, the digital consultation process can then be easily replicated by multiple clinicians within the Practice for many different groups of patients and conditions.
Each digital group consultation requires an Administrator, a Facilitator and the Clinician. Whilst not onerous or time consuming, each role has their own part to play in the run up to the consultation and during it. It is also possible for one person to take on more than one role. The process of organising a digital group consultation, once staff are trained and comfortable with the process, takes around 4 weeks. This rises to 6 weeks or so for the first consultation, which also covers the training phase.
We can help you to introduce Digital Group Consultations throughout the Practice. Our consultancy and guidance takes you through the steps required to conduct your first digital group consultation. This includes identifying the initial patient cohort and lead clinician, training selected staff in the key roles, and creation and sequencing of the various invitation letters and emails needed to engage with patients to be invited. We then facilitate the first group consultation for you, with staff members who may conduct future consultations listening in to learn the flow and key content.
We can help you to introduce Digital Group Consultations throughout the Practice.
We train your Practice staff in the specific roles needed to make the consultation a success, provide all the template letters and emails to your selected patients, and facilitate your first consultation. If you would like to find out more about the benefits of running digital group consultations, do give us a call on 0800 978 8323.