Palo Alto Medical Foundation Newsroom

PAMF Gets Grant for Virtual Shared Medical Appointments

Researchers at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute (PAMFRI) have received a one-year grant from the Verizon Foundation to implement an innovative and unique virtual Shared Medical Appointment (SMA) for weight management. SMAs are group appointments for patients with similar medical concerns and include components of a regular office visit. As a result, patients get more time with physicians and have an opportunity to learn from other patients. The new virtual SMA for weight management will utilize telepresence technology, allowing patients and physicians to connect through high-definition video conferencing.

SMAs have been in use at Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) since 1996 for a range of health care issues. A previous research study conducted Latha Palaniappan, M.D., MS, and her research team showed that the specialized SMA for weight management designed by Amy Muzaffar, M.D., was successful in helping individuals lose weight and improve their diet and physical activity in order to manage chronic disease and improve health outcomes.

Though the specialized SMAs were effective for weight loss, the study found that a key segment of the population – men aged 25 to 55 – were less likely to attend the weight management SMA sessions.

“Men in this age group benefit greatly from the risk reduction that results from weight loss,” said Dr. Palaniappan. “These patients are among the most difficult populations to reach, given competing priorities of work and family.”

To make the SMA for weight management more accessible to this difficult-to-reach population, Drs. Palaniappan and Muzaffar, and nurse researcher Kristen Azar, RN, MSN/MPH of PAMF have partnered with the Verizon Foundation to implement and evaluate a unique program that allows patients to attend the SMA sessions remotely, using a personal computer or mobile device.

“The use of real-time secure video conferencing will allow patients in the SMA to interact with the physician in a virtual group setting,” said Dr. Palaniappan.

The study will utilize a video conferencing service that will give health care providers in the clinic or medical center the ability to connect with patients remotely using low latency (unnoticeable delays in real-time input and output), telepresence-quality video conferencing from any mobile, desktop or room-based endpoint over the Internet, WiFi and 4G networks.

The virtual SMA will offer all of the benefits of in-person contact while improving the ease of access to important health care programs. Virtual care is one of the Verizon Foundation’s key focus areas, with the goal of improving the quality of health care through the delivery of innovative technologically-based programs.

This new virtual SMA study will use innovative telepresence technology to improve accessibility and provide solutions for health care. The study also seeks to increase the effectiveness, reach and efficiency of health care delivery.

Contact: Kristen Azar at 650-614-3246 or