4 Challenges in the Bariatric Market in 2021 and Beyond

Folders with tabs relevant to the bariatric market “obesity,” “weight loss,” “bariatric surgery,” ”gastric bypass,” and “sleeve gastrectomy.”

Recent studies show that the global bariatric market is growing at a robust rate. However, there are challenges ahead that may limit your ability to increase your patient base and surgical volume.

The good news is that leveraging personalized care automation solutions is one of the most effective ways to address potential barriers to growth and make the most out of the new revenue opportunities that are opening up.

Key Takeaways

  • The cost of bariatric procedures can be prohibitive for some patients: As many as 40% may not seek treatment for financial reasons.
  • As demand for bariatric surgery grows, the industry may face an increasing lack of specialists in the near future.
  • Conservative and/or varying eligibility criteria across states and insurances may also prevent patients from accessing the treatment they need when they need it.
  • Misconceptions about the safety and potential complications of bariatric procedures are major deterring factors as well.
  • A personalized care automation strategy that leverages guided workflow solutions can allow you to present weight loss surgery as a safe and viable option to more patients.

A Snapshot of the Global Bariatric Market

Before we consider some of the challenges in the bariatric industry and explore potential solutions, let us take a closer look at the present state of the market.

Current and Predicted Market Size
In 2020, industry analysts valued the size of the global bariatric surgery market at $1.83 billion. The latest forecasts expect it to reach anywhere between $3.72 and $4.81 billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 8.86% to 9.0%.
The slightly smaller bariatric surgery device market reached $1.51 billion in 2017. Expanding at a CAGR of 6.08%, it may reach $2.42 billion as early as 2025.

Market Drivers

The following factors influence the trajectory of the bariatric market: 

  • Rising obesity rates. Obesity is on the rise globally and across the U.S. due to increasingly sedentary lifestyles, poor diets, excessive calorie intake, and various socioeconomic factors. The CDC reports that 42.5% of U.S. adults aged 20 and over were obese (BMI ≥ 30.0) and 9.0% were severely obese (BMI ≥ 40.0) in 2017–2018, compared to just 13.5% and 0.1% respectively in 1960–1962. It is expected that by 2030, nearly 1 in 2 adults will be obese and nearly 25% will be severely obese.
  • Growing awareness of the dangers of obesity. More people may be considering bariatric treatment due to the increase in scientific research, government support, and media coverage on obesity-related health risks, especially now in light of the connection between COVID-19 and obesity.
  • Increasing availability of insurance.  States such as Louisiana and Georgia now offer bariatric coverage to their state employees.  23 states offer bariatric coverage through Healthcare Marketplace plans and 51 healthcare plans offer some level of coverage.  
42.5% of U.S. adults aged 20 and over were obese in 2017–2018
Image Source: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity-adult-17-18/obesity-adult.htm

A Look Into the Future: 4 Barriers to Growth for the Bariatric Industry 

Despite the strong evidence supporting positive outcomes not just on weight loss but other conditions like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia, nearly 99% of eligible patients in the U.S. do not get bariatric surgery in any given year. In 2017, according to ASMBS, less than 1% actually received the surgery.  6.

Here are some factors that may explain why so few patients are getting treatment — and how you may be able to counteract them: 

1. High Cost of Bariatric Surgery

The cost of bariatric procedures may dissuade some patients from getting surgery. The Advisory Board reports that 40% of interested patients do not follow through for financial reasons and that cost is a bigger deterrent than other factors. This may be partly due to the increasing popularity of high-deductible plans and the fact that certain states provide limited bariatric coverage.

If your patients are cost-sensitive, consider offering flexible payment plans or financial counseling. Direct-to-consumer bariatric surgery packages that include pre- and post-op care, surgery, and inpatient stay may also help attract out-of-market patients. You could even offer tailor-made bundles for different buyers, such as medical tourists, regional employers, or health plans. 

2. Lack of Medical Support Staff

As demand for bariatric procedures grows, the industry may face an increasing lack of specialists such as nurses, dieticians, psychologists, and more. To ensure that your organization can keep up, focus your efforts on attracting (and retaining) top talent. You may also want to provide financial and logistical support to staff who wish to train in bariatric care.

3. Conservative or Varying Eligibility Criteria

Most insurers still follow the weight loss surgery guidelines the National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed some 30 years ago when bariatric procedures first became available. The eligibility criteria are:

  • BMI of 40 or higher, or over 100 lbs. overweight; or
  • BMI of 35 or higher and at least one comorbidity such as hypertension, heart disease, type II diabetes, osteoarthritis, lipid abnormalities, gastrointestinal disorders, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or sleep apnea and other respiratory disorders; and
  • Inability to attain sustained healthy weight despite prior efforts.

However, a recent study found that patients who were just 50 to 70 pounds overweight and had sleeve gastrectomy experienced the same health benefits as patients with higher BMIs. The studied group was also more likely to maintain healthy weight and report higher body-image scores.

The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), the American Diabetes Association, and more than 45 other professional societies have also issued position statements in 2016 and 2018 urging insurers to reconsider requirements for bariatric treatment. Different states and insurance plans can cover widely varying procedures, and up to 25% of patients will be denied coverage three times before hitting eligibility.

4. Patients Are Wary of Potential Complications 

While the general public may be becoming more aware of obesity-related health risks, misconceptions persist. 

According to a study by the ASMBS and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, 37% of Americans believe weight loss surgery is unsafe. Furthermore, many Americans who have considered bariatric surgery or had it recommended by a healthcare provider did not go through with it because they were scared or nervous (10%) or had concerns about potential risks or side effects (6%).

However, research shows that bariatric procedures are not only safe but are becoming more so as surgeons gain experience and less invasive treatments become available. 

37% of Americans believe weight loss surgery is unsafe
https://www.norc.org/PDFs/ASMBS%20Obesity/ASMBS%20NORC%20Obesity%20Poll_Brief%20B%20REV010917.pdf

If you are struggling to present bariatric surgery as a safe and viable option to your patients, consider investing in a well-thought-out personalized care automation strategy. 

Software-based solutions may be particularly helpful in this regard. They can provide easy-to-use tools that address bariatric patients’ unique concerns and allow them to engage productively in their own care paths. Examples include:

  • Mobile apps 
  • Online patient portals
  • Secure direct messaging
  • Telehealth and virtual visits
  • Price transparency tools 
  • Informational materials 

Overall, personalized care automation technology can help you connect with your patients more effectively, allow them to learn from other patients who have gone through this journey, and educate them on:

  • Their condition
  • Related health risks
  • Treatment options like diet, exercise, behavioral therapy, and bariatric surgery
  • Possible side effects and complications
  • Long-term outlook  

Keep in mind that convincing patients that bariatric surgery is safe are only one step; Personalized care automation solutions can also empower patients to manage the workflow and stay prepared and confident to complete their journeys.

Bariatric Journey Improvement with Wellbe

Wellbe’s personalized care automation platform provides you with an automated guided workflow to effectively engage patients at every stage of their journeys to better health. By empowering patients to become active participants in their weight loss, they are better prepared, more confident, and ultimately more successful in their bariatric journeys. 

Empower your patients with Wellbe.

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