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What the study couldn’t measure, Dorsey says, was how he watched patients’ interactions for subtle signs that they needed prescriptions adjusted, things like cognitive problems or if medications wore off too quickly. One meeting even devoted 45 minutes to the pros and cons of implanted brain stimulators to curb tremors.

“Many heads are better than one. They think of questions you wouldn’t normally think of by yourself,” says Jim Euken, a retired judge and Parkinson’s patient from Belmont, NY. He began exercising on a bicycle after one of Dorsey’s group visits discussed research showing some patients still can bike when they can barely walk, for unknown reasons.

Euken joined some fellow study participants who petitioned the hospital, unsuccessfully, to continue group visits when the study ended: “It’s not that I don’t get good care. I do. But I still think I learned more and I think the process was better doing it in a group format.”

More research is needed to determine which patients fare better with group visits, plus they take a lot of doctor preparation, cautions study co-author Dr. Kevin Biglan of the University of Rochester.

Medicare will reimburse the doctor for each patient in a shared checkup with proper documentation that the visit includes certain elements, says Florida’s Whiddon. For his office, that means breaking even, as long as at least six people show up for his two-hour diabetes groups.

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EDITOR’S NOTE _ Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.