Referral Networks: A New Way to Tackle a Growing Epidemic

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Fri Jun 10 08:24:00 CDT 2016
Gina Baldo
Principal Market Development Specialist, Medtronic

Obesity in America is a perplexing problem. There is no single cure — and no single way it impacts people’s lives. In fact, it contributes to many other significant conditions.

 

Part of the problem is that it’s seen as a result of weakness and willpower. What’s more, one of the most effective ways to help a patient lose weight is still viewed with skepticism — even by the medical community.

 

That treatment — bariatric surgery — is far from a new procedure, and it has improved vastly over the years. In fact, the safety profile of bariatric surgery parallels that of laparoscopic cholecystectomy, one of the most common surgical procedures currently performed. Despite this, most patients are still self-referred for bariatric surgery, and many insurance plans still don’t cover the procedure.

 

Resistance to bariatric procedures is just one hurdle. Professionals who treat patients for obesity often work in isolation. One recommended approach, with the potential for improved outcomes: a referral network of professionals treating the comorbidities associated with obesity. The referral network is any medical or surgical professional who can refer a patient for surgical treatment. Patients gain a point of entry for care of the disease from the professionals treating their related metabolic, orthopedic, or gynecological issues, rather than a primary care physician (PCP) directing them to lose weight.

 

We met with several hundred medical professionals, including gynecologists, to learn more about the problems facing overweight and obese women. Many women use their gynecologist as they would a PCP, so this is a key place to influence the obesity epidemic.

 

We made a striking discovery: Gynecologists, laparoscopic surgeons, and orthopedic surgeons often have the same concerns operating on very heavy patients — regardless of the procedure.

 

For orthopedic surgeons, a patient’s weight can be a barrier to fast and effective treatment. But they have found that simply ordering patients to come back after losing an appropriate amount of weight can:
 

  • Delay care
  • Inconvenience patients
  • Leave patients stranded rather than empowered to take charge over their own health


Developing a cohesive referral network is greater than the sum of its individual parts. By working together, medical professionals can go further in addressing their patients’ needs — and be on the forefront of addressing this epidemic.


To truly address the obesity problem, we need referral networks and awareness campaigns that put patients first — because being overweight is about much more than just a number on the bathroom scale.

 


Gina Baldo is a Senior Market Development Manager at Medtronic.