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How Many Patients Can You Fit in a Doctor’s Office?

How many patients can you fit in a doctor’s office?


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Dr. Alexander Kuo
Dr. Alexander Kuo

Imagine spending 90 minutes with your doctor. No extra charge, but there is one catch: Six or seven other patients share your appointment. It’s happening at UC San Diego Health System as part of a pilot program for diabetes, liver, and HIV patients. Doubling up (or septupling, to be exact) isn’t mandatory, but physicians say many patients crave the camaraderie.

“Once they’re diagnosed with cirrhosis, everybody is worried they’re going to die tomorrow,” says Alexander Kuo, who sees patients with advanced liver disease. “It’s a very isolating experience. To get them together with others on the waiting list for transplants or people who’ve had successful transplants, it’s really encouraging. It becomes a community where they share experience and knowledge.”

It’s not a free-for-all. Kuo calls one patient up to the front of a conference room, while the “audience” listens. A facilitator fields questions between patients and a nurse records notes. Kuo admits it’s not for the shy, private, or domineering patient. The group consult allows him to spend more time explaining how lifestyle and diet affect patients’ chances of getting a life-saving liver transplant.

“I’m really excited about it,” says Kuo. “It’s great because I don’t want to spend all my time checking every little box to make sure insurance companies pay the bills. That’s what a lot of medicine is evolving into. I became a doctor so I can educate patients.”

Peer pressure helps motivate patients too, Kuo adds. But everyone signs a confidentiality agreement, so whatever happens in the doctor’s office stays in the doctor’s office.

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