Sean Ebert hosts some of the most popular gatherings in Vanderhoof. Lately, the busy family doctor is even being stopped on the street by people wanting to know when his next gathering will be. Ebert isn’t hosting a party or quilting bee; rather, he is holding group medical visits that have innovated and rejuvenated his practice.

For many patients, especially those with a chronic disease, seeing their doctor for a 15-minute visit may not provide them with all the information they need to learn how to manage their disease. Through group medical visits, Ebert can see about a dozen patients who have a specific chronic condition, or a similar chronic condition, at once in a 1.5- to 2-hour visit.

“In a group visit, I have more time to talk, more time to pass on critical information about chronic disease management,” says Ebert. His Omineca Medical Clinic in Vanderhoof hosts approximately three group visits per week for patients with a variety of chronic conditions.

Group medical visits are one of the practice innovations popularized by the Practice Support Program (PSP), a joint initiative of Doctors of BC and the BC Ministry of Health that provides training and support for physicians and their MOAs designed to improve clinical and practice management and to support enhanced delivery of patient care.

Ebert attended PSP learning sessions on practice efficiency methods such as group medical visits and chronic disease management. He is now a PSP physician practice leader and helps lead some of the PSP’s learning sessions for other family doctors.

Sherry Wright, who suffers from autoimmune disease, is a regular at Ebert’s group medical visits and is a big fan. “I really enjoy the group visits,” she says. “They have definitely made me feel less alone with my condition.”

For most chronic conditions, there are symptoms that all patients share, common lifestyle and dietary countermeasures they can take, and certain information they all need to understand. Instead of having to repeat the same information for each patient, Ebert can say it once to a whole group and then spend time going into more depth about disease management. Patients must agree to keep confidential any information that comes out about other peoples and their conditions.

"I find group visits are a great opportunity to educate my patients and help them manage their own health,” says Ebert. “And the bonus in these sessions is that a group can provide great social support as well.”

The Omineca clinic hosts a variety of group visits, with four doctors holding sessions regularly. For the patients, these group visits provide improved access to their doctor and decrease the time they wait to get into the clinic. For the doctors, the visits have decreased their backlog of patients and made their practice more manageable. A win-win situation.

The PSP began as an initiative of the General Practice Services Committee (GPSC) – a joint committee of Doctors of BC and the BC Ministry of Health (the ministry) – and now receives additional direction, support, and funding from the Shared Care Committee and the Specialist Services Committee (also partnerships between Doctors of BC and the ministry).