— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.
Weight loss programs can have a tremendous positive impact on patients’ wellbeing and the health care system, even when it’s hard to track their bottom line contribution.
Whether your health care system’s fiscal year ends in June, September, or December, administrators are constantly challenged to find ways to provide high-level care and services while simultaneously being fiscally prudent. The struggle has been even more intense over the past year as hospitals try to regain their financial footing in overcoming multi-billion dollar losses in revenue as a result of the impact of COVID-19.1 As part of a comprehensive assessment, it is critical to recognize the programs that treat conditions such as obesity and recognize their contributions to both patient care and revenue streams.
Health Care Systems Must Consider the Relationship between Obesity and Other Diseases
Despite clear and significant links between obesity and multiple common causes of death, it is rarely listed as a cause of death on a death certificate. As such, administrators may find it difficult to justify expending resources on weight-related services, such as an in-house weight loss center, versus supporting other programs specific to more “serious” health issues such as cardiovascular disease or cancer. This view minimizes the significant and pervasive relationship between obesity and other diseases that become the focus of resources, when treating the cause could have equal or greater impact.
Another obstacle is “wrong pocket attribution” which occurs when the investment in one department benefits another department. Programs that address obesity and other underlying causes of death such as smoking are prime examples. Patients benefit, and at a high level, communities benefit through reduced medical costs and insurance payouts and lower attrition and greater productivity in the workplace. However, the health care system that develops the program may not see benefits in that line item, causing them to reassess its financial value regardless of its wider successes.
In reality, offering a greater focus on weight loss options benefits patients through improved health outcomes. At the same time, health care systems retain the revenue stream through referrals from departments whose patients would benefit from weight loss as a part of their treatment. This could include patients with diabetes, women considering pregnancy, men and women experiencing fertility issues, patients preparing for surgery, people with sleep apnea, and many other specialty areas throughout the system. Further, patients benefit from the continuum of care through accessibility of health records and the ability of their physicians to consult on their case.
Weight Management Contributes to Significantly Better Health Outcomes
COVID-19 clearly demonstrated that health care systems will continue to face financial and other unknown challenges moving forward. Hospitals and health care systems must consider obesity as a critical health care issue and recognize how weight management contributes to significantly better health outcomes.2 Making obesity treatment a priority demonstrated recognition of individual health and wellness and retains in-house profitability and competitiveness.