Studies have shown that group therapy can be at least as effective as individual treatment for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. In recent years, however, group treatment has begun making its way into physicians’ offices.         

Shared medical appointments are visits in which a small group of patients meet for a check up, talk about their experiences, and receive education. These appointments are typically used to treat chronic conditions like diabetes and pediatric asthma, and they are increasingly and successfully being offered to patients with erectile dysfunction (ED) and kidney disease in nephrology and urology practices.

“There are few nephrologists in the country, but 26 million people with chronic kidney disease,” said Micah Chan, MD, clinical chief of the division of nephrology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, which offers group appointments in the kidney stone clinic and for patients with chronic kidney disease. “It is hard to see all of these patients and at same time give them enough education to keep their kidney disease from getting worse.”

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Creating a community

Charles Modlin, MD, Director of the Minority Men’s Health Center at the Cleveland Clinic, said his center uses shared medical appointments for a number of conditions, but one of the most popular is ED. It might seem like a topic men would not want to discuss in the presence of others, but it is the community environment that makes it such a success, Dr. Modlin said.

“It is becoming more and more acceptable for men to admit they have ED, and it is really quite beneficial for men to hear that other men are going through this and it isn’t just them,” Dr. Modlin said. “It gives them an opportunity to talk amongst themselves and learn from one another.”

Men with all stages of ED are in the class and those considering treatments can talk with others who have already experienced it, Dr. Modlin said. He said the men open up much more in group visits than with him in a one-on-one appointment.  

Group visits also allow families to take part in the discussion. Parents might join in discussions with children who wet the bed or wives may sit in with husbands suffering from ED.

“It allows us to address issues that are relevant to a partner or caregiver,” said Ryan Terlecki, MD, a urologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health, which has been offering shared visits for more than a year. “If they bring spouses, it allows a lot of ground to be covered – more so than if it is just the men.”