Faced with an increasing number of patients struggling with unhealthy weight, medical practitioners met Wednesday in Newark at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to discuss ways to address the obesity issue from both a care and a business standpoint.
“You have a condition that many insurances don’t recognize,” said Dr. Jeff Levine, UMDNJ professor and director of women’s health. “These patients, it takes time to counsel them to get to find out what their needs are, to find out about what their current diet is, what their barriers are.
“That takes time, and you’re not reimbursed for that, so there’s no financial incentive or even time incentive to deal with these patients,” Levine said. “There’s no carrot, there’s no stick, and there’s no training.”
Levine brings a personal understanding to the discussion — he was a participant in the second season of the nationally televised “Biggest Loser,” during which he lost 103 pounds. Levine told the audience Wednesday that his experience on the show helped him with learning how to approach patients about weight issues, as well as create more targeted and personal plans.
“I can empathize with the struggle that they’re having,” Levine said. “In some ways, it’s made me more empathetic and in some ways less. Before I would help make excuses for patients; now, I try to find ways to address their barriers.”
Dr. Jeanne Ferrante, who presented Wednesday on changing medical practices to make them more appropriate for obese patients, said practitioners need to receive more training in the awareness of weight bias.
“Anecdotally, after (doctors) make changes, patients are more receptive to recommendations” said Ferrante, associate professor in the research division of the department of family medicine. “When they have a much better relationship with their doctor, they’re more likely to trust them, they’re more likely to pay attention to what they’re saying and follow through on recommendations and treatment.”
While surveying patients and doctors, Ferrante said she found many physicians did not know how to approach the issue with patients, and had inappropriately sized equipment — including waiting room chairs, blood pressure cuffs and examination tables — that discouraged patients from seeing a doctor.
Dr. Riva Touger-Decker, chair of the school’s department of nutritional sciences, called the symposium valuable because “it demonstrated the inter-professional nature of obesity management and prevention.”
“We can’t put it in a vacuum and treat it as a disease with a single treatment,” she said.