Fighting Obesity With Long-Term Patient Engagement

The holiday season can be a hard time of year for weight management patients. From turkey temptations to holiday cookies, food challenges lurk around every corner. This is the time where strong connections with their care team and patient engagement are needed for compliance with care plansDoc outreach.

ObesityWeek, the national conference for practitioners and researchers, took place in Atlanta earlier this month. A study was released that showed bariatric surgery’s beneficial effects for type 2 diabetes were significantly greater than other medical and lifestyle interventions. New guidelines also urged primary care providers to diagnose and prescribe treatment for obese patients more consistently.

Hospitals have made numerous upgrades to support and improve the experience of their obese patients, including larger beds, wheelchairs, and imaging machines along with new staff protocols. However, treating patients for obesity requires a long-term patient engagement effort that goes beyond the hospital walls.

We met with hundreds of bariatric surgery program coordinators, surgeons, dietitians and researchers at the conference. We asked them all the same question: “What is the hardest part of working with bariatric or weight management patients?”

67% said keeping patients engaged for the long-term was their #1 issue, followed by preparing patients for the lifestyle changes needed before surgery, really two sides of the same coin.

Often when a patient makes the decision to have weight loss surgery they have already been contemplating the idea for some time. They don’t want to wait, but insurance requires a minimum of six months of a required weight management program. Keeping patients engaged and focused on the goal for these first six months ensures the surgery will happen on schedule.

A broad set of patient needs are taken into consideration during treatment, including:

  • Addressing underlying psychological and social issues surrounding food
  • Building dietary knowledge and reinforcing portion control
  • Identifying or growing effective support systems

Only a small percentage of a weight-loss patient’s time is spent in the company of doctors and other providers. The majority of the time they are on their own and must rely on their willpower and outside support to make progress towards their goal. It is here where patients can “fall through the cracks.”

Following up with patients after surgery – keeping them engaged and focused on the right actions (for up to a year or more) – can be difficult for a single coordinator managing hundreds of patients. Online tools with automated reminders and check-ins, along with access to online support groups available 24/7 can augment direct contact. A model that blends high tech with high touch has the opportunity to drive higher engagement and better weight management outcomes.

In his presentation “Lifestyle Modification for Weight Loss Maintenance” at the ObesityWeek conference, Dr. Lawrence Appel presented study data that internet-based interventions alone are not effective for sustaining weight loss. However, when combined with coach contact or in-person meetings, program efficacy was significantly better.

Tell us in the comments below: How do you engage your obese patients to make positive changes in their lives?


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