Group Doctor Visits: Why Share Your Care?

"There was quite a bit of resistance; physicians were already overwhelmed by so much change, and this was too great of a paradigm shift," he recalls. "But by about 2002, it really changed. Now, the major obstacle is keeping doctors and medical groups from rushing off half-cocked and doing (group visits) without designing them properly with the right personnel."

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Noffsinger's models are designed to run like a series of one-on-one office visits, only with observers. Because of that, doctors can bill -- and health insurance companies will pay for -- a full office visit for each group attendee.

"The setting doesn't matter -- it can be an exam room, a group hall or a 'doc-in-a-box' at your local Walgreens or Costco," Noffsinger says. "What matters is the care delivered and documented."

The group-visits connection to Obamacare

He's proudest of introducing the concept of a documenter who takes chart notes for the whole group, freeing the physicians to do what only they can. "Did you ever wonder why we have the most expensive resource in the system (the doctor) doing what the least expensive resource could do?" he asks. "That's the major reason groups are so efficient."

The timing of Noffsinger's group breakthroughs couldn't have been better. Nearly 50 percent of all adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic disease, which accounts for 7 out of 10 deaths nationwide and consumes 75 percent of our health care dollars, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The aging of the baby boom generation and the millions of Americans expected to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act are expected to leave America short about 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Group doctor visits could help ease the crunch.

But Dr. Dennis Saver, a Vero Beach, Fla., primary care physician and past president of the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, expects the private office visit to remain the dominant form of health care delivery.

"Group visits are really powerful and deserve a wider application. They have a special role," he says. "But I don't think they're going to become the new norm, nor should they. For things like acute care or common ailments such as colds and flu, they just don't fit."

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This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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