Shared Medical Appointments (SMAs): What You Should Know About The Newest Doctor Visit

If the next time you call your doctor's office you are asked if you would be interested in a 'shared medical appointment,' or SMA, you don't need to freak out.  You may even want to consider attending an SMA once before you decide it's not for you.  I'll explain the rational for SMAs, what they offer, and how patients have responded to this relatively new medical practice....


Rationale For SMAs

If you've had a doctor's visit recently, you may have noticed that your appointment had to be booked way in advance, unless it was an emergency, in which case you were probably sent to an urgent care center, and that your eventual doctor's visit was short - shorter than the last time you visited.  Because health care costs are climbing at a rate at least three times faster than the economy is growing, the medical community has to find ways to cut some corners.


How Are SMAs Structured?

SMAs are cost cutting, no doubt about it.  But they may actually improve your care. 

Here's what most SMAs are like:

  • An SMA usually consists of patients with similar medical issues, for example, diabetes.
  • The group usually consists of 8 to 15 patients.
  • SMA sessions are usually 90 minutes long.
  • Patients have access to a doctor, nurse, and/or physicians assistants, depending on their individual needs.
  • SMAs have short talks and group discussions about specific medical issues where patients may contribute and ask questions.
  • Patients have individual meetings with medical professionals during the SMA and, if required, will have a private examination in a room separate from the other patients.

SMAs got their start several years ago, but are now attracting the attention of some of the most well-known medical facilities in the country, such as the Cleveland Clinic and Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. 


Shared Medical Appointment at North Shore Medical Center: image via scripps.orgShared Medical Appointment at North Shore Medical Center: image via


How Do Patients Respond To SMA Visits?

The Veterans Association is even experimenting with SMAs and is having success according to patients who've attended the SMAs.  In a study of patient satisfaction, published in the July/August 2014 issue of The Annals of Family Medicine, it was found that attendees of SMAs were more likely to rate their overall satisfaction with their physician visits as 'very good' than their cohorts who met with their doctors in the traditional manner.

This satisfaction survey repeats the findings of other surveys in which SMA participants...

  • Were more satisfied with their care than traditional patients;
  • Learned more about their health conditions than traditional patients;
  • Appreciated the questions and concerns expressed by other patients, particularly if those issued had not occurred to them personally; and
  • Had greater access to their doctors than if they had scheduled a private appointment.

So far, then, the patient experience with the SMA seems to have been quite positive. It is true, from anecdotal reports, that one's total privacy is lost, as other members of the group know why you are there - for example, that you have diabetes, or heart disease, like them - but all group members must sign statements that they will keep information about other members confidential.

Aside from that, I should let you know that, so far, in medical practices where SMA is offered, it is an option.


Sources: Clinical MicrosystemsCleveland Clinic, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, The Annals of Family Medicine, Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine,