Physician perspective: Adding obesity care to your practice
If your independent medical practice is like many across the nation, you may be challenged by some common but difficult issues:
- Slowing or falling revenues
- Heavy caseloads of patients with preventable chronic conditions
- A sense you’re falling short of helping all your patients get healthier
In 2009, I faced these problems. I needed to find an effective, credible way to increase revenue and improve my patients’ health outcomes through the practice of clinically-proven, sound medical treatment.
To accomplish my goals, I focused on obesity medicine. As decades of research have demonstrated, obesity is a major contributor to, or root cause of, more than 59 chronic conditions. It affects close to 40% of adults with another 30% classified as overweight. However, many providers feel ill-equipped to effectively treat obesity as a disease and are often uncomfortable having discussions about the health risks associated with obesity. Yet your patients spend lots of money outside your practice on ineffective commercial weight loss options that fail 95% of the time.
Integrating obesity care into your practice
Many of my patients needed help losing weight, and it was clinically-proven that weight reduction has a direct positive impact on health. A modest 5% weight loss reduces the health risks associated with obesity. I knew my patients would trust my treatment recommendations for weight management and obesity, but first I needed to find a program that would provide me with the training and knowledge necessary to increase my confidence in delivering obesity care, and one that had clinical proof of its efficacy.
After extensive research, I decided to integrate a medical weight loss program into my family practice in July 2010. It combined cash payments from patients with insurance coverage. In 2010, I became my first patient, losing 25 pounds, and I’ve maintained my new weight..
Fortunately, I had a built-in patient base for weight loss services, so I took some simple steps to start generating awareness of my new medical weight loss program:
- Placed signage throughout the office.
- Identified high-risk patients and scheduled screenings.
- Discussed the program with patients during office visits.
Outcomes: Improved revenue, patient satisfaction
The results of my initial activity exceeded my expectations. I launched my weight loss program in August 2010 planning to see two to three weight loss patients per week. Due to overwhelming response, I needed to expand my plan to see two to three weight loss patients per day. In six months I had outgrown my space, found a larger office, and hired a nurse practitioner to help administer the program, which doubled my weight loss program’s incremental monthly gross revenue from $10,000 to $20,000, while only practicing obesity medicine part time. Since my launch, insurance reimbursement for obesity counseling has been implemented at favorable levels, making care more accessible and revenue potential even higher.
Obesity screenings and counseling visits can generate double the typical visitation fee, and since its classified as preventive care, up to 26 visits can occur annually.
Most importantly, the results my patients achieve mirror a clinical study that was published in The American Journal of Medicine. My patients average 11% weight loss in 12 weeks, and those continuing with a maintenance plan, achieve15% at one year and maintain 12% at two years.
My experience integrating a medical weight loss program and in helping many providers do the same, has convinced me that physician-directed obesity treatment is a viable, scalable business opportunity.
The need and support for provider-directed obesity care continues to grow. We are in the best position to make a difference – for our patients and for our own bottom lines.
- Obesity medicine is a high-growth area
- Policymakers support medical obesity care:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes obesity as a national epidemic
- CMS initiated favorable reimbursement for behavioral counseling
- The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends annual obesity screening for adults and treatment for patients with 30+ body mass index (BMIs)
- The AMA recognizes obesity as a disease state
- The Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes obesity screening and ongoing treatment as preventive care.
- Return on investment happens swiftly, with the ability to double monthly gross revenue in months
Patients seek effective, long-term, safe approaches and will not be dissuaded by cost if they understand value to their overall health. Physician-directed weight loss, integrated into your practice as a comprehensive program, offers your providers the opportunity to practice sound preventive medicine, a goal of the ACA. If your patient population could benefit from weight loss – and most probably can, given the national statistics – you should consider this new business opportunity.
— Matthew Pinto, MD. The author is Medical Director for The Center for Medical Weight Loss and a board-certified family medicine physician.