Group clinics are a form of delivering specialist-led care in groups rather than in individual consultations.
To examine the evidence for the use of group clinics for patients with chronic health conditions.
A systematic review of evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) supplemented by qualitative studies, cost studies and UK initiatives.
We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, The Cochrane Library, Web of Science and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature from 1999 to 2014. Systematic reviews and RCTs were eligible for inclusion. Additional searches were performed to identify qualitative studies, studies reporting costs and evidence specific to UK settings.
Data were extracted for all included systematic reviews, RCTs and qualitative studies using a standardised form. Quality assessment was performed for systematic reviews, RCTs and qualitative studies.
UK studies were included regardless of the quality or level of reporting. Tabulation of the extracted data informed a narrative synthesis. We did not attempt to synthesise quantitative data through formal meta-analysis. However, given the predominance of studies of group clinics for diabetes, using common biomedical outcomes, this subset was subject to quantitative analysis.
Thirteen systematic reviews and 22 RCT studies met the inclusion criteria. These were supplemented by 12 qualitative papers (10 studies), four surveys and eight papers examining costs. Thirteen papers reported on 12 UK initiatives. With 82 papers covering 69 different studies, this constituted the most comprehensive coverage of the evidence base to date. Disease-specific outcomes – the large majority of RCTs examined group clinic approaches to diabetes. Other conditions included hypertension/heart failure and neuromuscular conditions. The most commonly measured outcomes for diabetes were glycated haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), blood pressure and cholesterol. Group clinic approaches improved HbA1c and improved systolic blood pressure but did not improve low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
A significant effect was found for disease-specific quality of life in a few studies. No other outcome measure showed a consistent effect in favour of group clinics. Recent RCTs largely confirm previous findings. Health services outcomes – the evidence on costs and feasibility was equivocal. No rigorous evaluation of group clinics has been conducted in a UK setting.
A good-quality qualitative study from the UK highlighted factors such as the physical space and a flexible appointment system as being important to patients. The views and attitudes of those who dislike group clinic provision are poorly represented. Little attention has been directed at the needs of people from ethnic minorities. The review team identified significant weaknesses in the included research. Potential selection bias limits the generalisability of the results. Many patients who could potentially be included do not consent to the group approach. Attendance is often interpreted liberally.
This telescoped review, conducted within half the time period of a conventional systematic review, sought breadth in covering feasibility, appropriateness and meaningfulness in addition to effectiveness and cost-effectiveness and utilised several rapid-review methods. It focused on the contribution of recently published evidence from RCTs to the existing evidence base. It did not reanalyse trials covered in previous reviews. Following rapid review methods, we did not perform independent double data extraction and quality assessment.
Although there is consistent and promising evidence for an effect of group clinics for some biomedical measures, this effect does not extend across all outcomes. Much of the evidence was derived from the USA. It is important to engage with UK stakeholders to identify NHS considerations relating to the implementation of group clinic approaches.
The review team identified three research priorities: (1) more UK-centred evaluations using rigorous research designs and economic models with robust components; (2) clearer delineation of individual components within different models of group clinic delivery; and (3) clarification of the circumstances under which group clinics present an appropriate alternative to an individual consultation.
The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.