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Room For 7 More? My Thoughts On Group-Based Prenatal Care

Expectant mothers in certain U.S. communitiesnow have the choice between individual prenatal care and small group visits.Women can attend these group-based appointments with eight to 10 other womenwho are around the same point in their pregnancy.

 At group prenatal visits, the doctor covershealth information that’s pertinent to the group’s pregnancy journey to date.These appointments serve as supplements to, not replacements for, one-on-oneprenatal visits to monitor fetal and maternal health. However, onlyapproximately 3percent of women in the U.S. choose or are offered group care.

We don’t currently offer group prenatal careat UT Southwestern – more information is needed before we can begin thetraining and infrastructure changes group care requires. But the program isintriguing because of the potential patient benefits.

Data are limited, though the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists(ACOG) suggests that group visits might result in lower cesarean section rates,fewer preterm births, and increased initiation of breastfeeding. It could alsocreate a sense of camaraderie among participants. Some doctors suggest it maylower patients’ overall stress levels as well.

Potential benefits for patients

Have you ever had a question for your Ob/Gyn but felt too rushed or reluctant to ask? This scenario happens too often in the traditional 15-minute prenatal visit.

Group appointments are typically scheduled for an hour to 90 minutes, with plenty of time to ask questions and listen to other moms’ experiences as well. This open sharing environment can help women feel validated if they have similar concerns, symptoms, or questions.

Additionally, it creates a safe space for women to offer each other guidance regarding breastfeeding and wellness. Advice like this is sometimes more meaningful when it comes from someone who’s walking a similar path. And the group environment allows doctors the chance to agree with or offer alternatives to patients’ suggestions. 

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Challenges for providers

Group appointments pose a few unique challenges for Ob/Gyn offices and doctors:

  • Many offices are designed for individual appointments, not group meetings. Ob/Gyn offices would have to consider remodeling or creating new spaces, which can be time-consuming and expensive. Also, offices might need mobile blood pressure cuffs and other exam items specifically for the room where the group is meeting.
  • Today’s doctors are trained to do one-on-one patient visits. As I was writing this article, I realized I wouldn’t know where to begin if I were asked to lead a group appointment. Such a program would require retraining in patient communication as well as a time investment to create content for each pregnancy stage.
  • Group appointments aren’t necessarily more efficient. Seeing eight to 10 patients in two hours is a fairly typical patient load today. However, it might feel more efficient if the doctor can give general health information once rather than repeating it to each patient individually. Also, it might be more satisfying for providers to share general information and then have plenty of time to answer questions that are more focused and different day to day.

Then there’s the possibility that, in the future, group appointments could be held over a secure digital platform. It’s not much of a stretch considering the rise of prenatal telemedicine, and women already have unstructured conversations in social media groups.

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