Group Medical Visits: Achieving Wellness in a Social Environment
Wellness, says one source, is "an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth."
At UW Health's Center for Wellness at The American Center on Madison's far east side, experts seek to put this definition into practice in many ways.
One approach that has been well received is a group medical visit, also known as a shared medical appointment. The visits are structured like a class and incorporate individual medical check-ins for each participant. A group medical visit is typically covered by health insurance like a traditional doctor's appointment.
Robin Wipperfurth, who lives near Poynette, Wis., has been fighting lower back pain and sciatica for years. She also has high cholesterol and decided she would like to eat healthier.
In 2019, Robin began attending group medical visits and came to appreciate the value of being with others who face similar challenges.
"You feel less isolated by hearing what others are going through," says Robin. "You also pick up a lot of great advice from the medical professionals who lead the visits as well as the other participants."
Unlike a typical doctor's appointment that may last 15 minutes, a group medical visit - which may include 15 to 20 patients - lasts about 90 minutes. The session is led by a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner.
Many Topics Covered
Group medical visit topics span many health topics and interests. Current offerings (early 2020) include:
- Cooking for Heart Health and Longevity
- Healing Waters for Pain
- Healthy Digestion
- Healthy Sleep
- Kitchen Wisdom: Cooking, Eating and Living Well
- Knee and Hip Osteoarthritis Group
- Relaxation and Stress Reduction: Building Resiliency
"Many people who attend a group medical visit keep coming back," says Lisa Grant, DO, medical director of the UW Health Center for Wellness. "Whether you are trying to reduce stress, relieve pain or eat healthier, group medical visits are a great way to achieve greater wellness in a social setting."
Healing Waters for Pain
One group medical visit - called Healing Waters for Pain - helped Wipperfurth navigate her lower back pain and sciatica that limit her ability to walk as much as she would like.
Conducted in a 90-degree warm-water therapy pool, this program - which typically meets weekly for six sessions - helps patients appreciate how much better they can feel when they move their body against the resistance of the heated water.
"You can do things in the warm water that are impossible or hurt too much if you do them outside the pool," Robin says. "The clinicians were phenomenal," she adds. "They made everyone feel welcome. It also helped to talk with others in the group and learn what worked for them."
Robin's goals also include losing weight and lowering her cholesterol. Another UW Health group medical visit, called Kitchen Wisdom, helped her out on both fronts.
"Kitchen Wisdom is great because it is a very interactive, hands-on program. Not only do you learn a lot about what makes food healthy or unhealthy, you also prepare and share meals in a beautiful facility and exchange recipes with others in your session."
Eating healthier starts with being better informed, Robin says. "We learned how to read food labels which can be shocking when you realize how much sugar or sodium is in certain foods. We also learned about how adding things like flaxseed or quinoa to your diet can be beneficial without compromising on taste."
As the calendar approached the end of 2019, Robin's was enrolled in another group medical visit called Culinary Connections, a follow-up to Kitchen Wisdom. Here, they discussed holiday foods - many of which are very high in calories or fat.
"We made a sweet potato casserole before Thanksgiving, which was far healthier than one made of brown sugar and marshmallows," Robin says, "We also learned how much better it is to add fruit to plain yogurt instead of buying flavored yogurt, which is high in sugar."
Robin also enjoyed learning how to achieve greater satisfaction in preparing meals instead of going out to eat.
"Even if you live alone," Robin says, "this program helps bring back the excitement of cooking. For those who cook for one, it doesn't have to be discouraging. You can freeze part of what you make or invite a friend over to enjoy your creation or prepare a dish with you."
Date Published: 01/21/2020