The BBC recently reported a story about the success of group appointments within the NHS. The article said that both patients and GPs benefited. Patients enjoyed peer support. And, GPs said they saved time and did not need to repeat their advice. But are group appointments really the answer to our healthcare crisis?
In the study, doctors said group appointments were one way to get waiting times down. Not surprising when the groups might include up to 15 people. And, the whole group of people, with the same condition, sharing the appointment. Though each session could last up to two hours, this need not be solely with a GP.
How group appointments might help the healthcare crisis
If group appointments become the norm, they will likely be for people with chronic conditions. Modern medicine struggles to help people with chronic, complex diseases such as diabetes. And, doctors try to manage these conditions rather than reverse them. This means the number of people with chronic illness grows. And the healthcare crisis continues.
Time is limited during GP appointments. So, group sessions might help because they allow more time. Overall, more time for interaction with the GP. And more time to discuss self-help methods with each other.
Just meeting other people with a similar condition is therapeutic. After all, people with chronic ill health can feel very alone. Yet, the BBC report didn’t say that the group sessions helped anyone get better. And even the Patients Association only said that the group sessions were “reassuring.” Saying it helped people to realise that there were many others like them. Other people suffering like them, and with the same challenges and concerns.
However, when it comes to chronic conditions what is needed most is a personalised approach. Conditions the report mentions are high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic back pain and asthma. Group appointments might aim to address underlying issues like diet and lifestyle. But underlying issues are likely to be different for different people.
In fact, a patient-centred approach is needed. An approach that uses the principles of functional medicine. And, this is the opposite of group therapy. Patient-centred medicine looks at the individual and seeks, to understand how and why their illness occurred. Only then can we know how to address the root causes of the problem.
Functional medicine focusses on any imbalances in the body. How well the body functions. It uses a science-based approach that views the body as a whole. But, also considers how every system in the body interacts. It takes into account the circumstances that may have triggered or perpetuated the imbalances. Then seeks to correct them so that the body can heal itself.
Looking at the root causes rather than only the symptoms is key. In this way practitioners of functional medicine can address complex patterns of ill health. Since there can be many root causes for chronic, complex conditions, each person with that condition may need different advice. This is unlike the one size fits all approach that is behind group therapy.
Group therapy can not take into account each individual person. Each person’s medical history and genetics. Dietary likes and dislikes, cultural differences and food intolerances or allergies. How well a person sleeps, or how they manage their stress. A practitioner following functional medicine principles may suggest small changes that can add up. Such personalised medicine can make huge improvements in chronic conditions.
Unfortunately, the healthcare crisis continues and the strain on the NHS is evident. To try and relieve some of the pressure group sessions are likely to continue. The NHS will be less geared to the individual as it struggles with the burden of more chronically ill people.
The individual approach
If you suffer from a chronic, complex condition and would like a more personalised approach, consider getting in touch with me, here. As a medical herbalist I use functional medicine principles, to help improve health on an individual basis.