The doctor won’t see you now..

Ironically, just a few days ago we were talking about lung cancer and discrimination against patients with lung cancer in the post, The Pearl Ribbon.   Now a new article published in Physicians Money Digest,  suggests that one of the latest trends is discrimination against the obese.  As obese people can tell you – this discrimination has always existed in some form, and from all avenues in society including medicine.

However, this new trend consists of doctors avoiding accepting obese patients in their practice, mainly to avoid the increased workload related to obesity related complications.  That’s right – as discussed in the article by Laura Mortokowitz, which I have re-posted below -some doctors are avoiding caring for obese patients because they do not want to provide care to patients with higher risks of certain complications – diabetes, heart disease, etc.

As someone who works in heart surgery, I can see this issue from both sides.  As many of you know – I am sometimes disheartened by the sheer overwhelming volume of disease (due to diabetes) and the amount of suffering involved for my patients.  I am particularly distressed at times when I see the amount of preventable suffering, and damage my patients experience from not controlling their blood pressure, checking their glucose or taking their medications.  But my patients are already sick – that’s why the are seeing a heart surgeon.  So, I often mourn these lost opportunities to prevent disease (heart attacks, strokes etc.), and I can see how primary care providers, and other providers may feel emotional fatigue and frustration at times.

But, other the other hand –  not every obese person is a stroke or heart attack waiting to happen.  Many of these people can be helped – by education, counseling or even bariatric surgery.  If these people are aggressively followed and cared for, risk reduction can help prevent catastrophic complications – by managing medical conditions that may develop – with aggressive cholesterol control, blood pressure management, etc.

Lastly, medicine is not an exact science – while risks may be greatly increased in many obese people – it is not a guarantee.. Just as it’s a false assumption that all overweight people are sedentary (ie. ‘fat and lazy’), not all overweight people will develop any or all of the complications we’ve discussed before.   But it is guaranteed that these obese patients will suffer, if this trend continues and more and more doctors shun them.

But my door is always open.

By Laura Mortkowitz, Wednesday, November, 16th, 2011
A recent move by Florida ob-gyn physicians to begin turning away overweight patients on the grounds that they were too risky might be the beginning of a new trend. According to Michael Nusbaum, MD, FACS, the health reform bill’s Accountable Care Organizations essentially de-incentivize physicians from taking on morbidly obese patients.
As they stand now, ACOs look at quality measures and they base reimbursements on complications. Doctors already know that a high complication rate will mean less money, and obese patients are considered high-risk patients by definition.
“Under the current bill, the Accountable Care Organizations are looking strictly at outcome measures, so unless that changes I don’t see the perception by physicians changing toward who they’re going to want to treat and who they’re not going to treat,” says Nusbaum, the Medical Director at The Obesity Treatment Centers of New Jersey.
This new practice is not something that would have occurred in the past for two reasons: one, physicians might be reluctant to treat an obese patient, but it was rare to turn them away completely; and two, it was very rare to treat a morbidly obese patient a couple of decades ago.
However, over the last 10 years, the percentage of the population that is overweight has increased dramatically. Today, close to 70% of the population is at least overweight, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even more concerning, is the fact that pediatric obesity has tripled over the last 20 years.
“Is the health care system to take care of morbidly obese patients? I would argue that it’s not,” Nusbaum says. “Pretty clearly it’s not. The problem with the health care system is that it lacks infrastructure.”
Most machines and tables can only hold up to 350 pounds, and any patients that exceed that weight might not even be able to get treated at a hospital that doesn’t have the equipment to handle an obese patient. According to Nusbaum, it should be a requirement that hospitals are equipped to treat any morbidly obese patient.
“Nobody is even talking about it,” he says. “Everybody is afraid to even talk about this.”
And it doesn’t seem as if new health laws are encouraging to the treatment of obesity. Under the new health bill’s Essentials Benefit Package, bariatric surgery is not covered because morbid obesity is being considered a poor lifestyle choice. As a result, insurance companies “have become emboldened to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to cover it either,’” Nusbaum says.
In New Jersey, Blue Cross/Blue Shield has 14 insurance policies, and eight of them do not cover bariatric surgery at all.
“What you’re seeing happening is a change in attitude to bariatric surgery and in my opinion a discrimination against those people who have weight issues,” Nusbaum says.
However, there was a rather positive turn of events in Michigan, where bariatric surgery will be covered in 2012 after it was dropped for all of this year.
“They noticed that while they were making money in the short term — they were saving money — they were losing more money by not taking care of these patients,” Nusbaum says. “[The patients] were getting sicker. It was very short sighted.”


Lifestyle Modification after Bariatric Surgery

Lifestyle modification after bariatric surgery is one of the cornerstones for successful and sustained weight loss, and healthy living.  However, the majority of emphasis is placed on dietary changes – as a result of the surgical alterations to stomach capacity.  While dietary modification for healthy eating (energy intake) is extremely important – we are also going to talk about the other part of the equation for both weight loss and healthy living: Exercise (energy expenditure).

Exercise and physical fitness are critical for multiple reasons – beyond initial weight loss, but many people often question the ability of the morbidly obese to exercise vigorously (and safely).  A new study by Shah et. al (June 2011) in Obesity magazine examines this concept.  Shah and his team of researchers divided gastric bypass patients and gastric banding patients into two groups ;  a control group receiving standard therapy and a high intensity exercise group.  The findings confirmed that physical fitness is both possible and beneficial for these patients.

Since both the original article and several articles discussing these finds are paid/ subscription sites, I have re-posted from Medscape (which is more freely accessible for most people.)

For more articles on Bariatric Surgery, see the sidebar for our archives.

Rigorous Exercise May be Feasible after Bariatric Surgery

Laurie Barclay (Medscape)

July 15, 2011 — Rigorous exercise may be feasible and beneficial to maintain weight after bariatric surgery, according to the results of a randomized controlled trial reported online July 7 in Obesity.

“[W]e didn’t know until now whether morbidly obese bariatric surgery patients could physically meet this goal,” said senior author Abhimanyu Garg, chief of nutrition and metabolic diseases at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, in a news release. “Our study shows that most bariatric surgery patients can perform large amounts of exercise and improve their physical fitness levels. By the end of the 12 weeks, more than half the study participants were able to burn an additional 2,000 calories a week through exercise and 82 percent surpassed the 1,500-calorie mark.”

The investigators studied the tolerability and efficacy of high-volume exercise program (HVEP) in 33 obese, postbariatric-surgery patients who had undergone Roux-en-Y gastric bypass and gastric banding. Mean body mass index (BMI) was 41 ± 6 kg/m2. Participants were assigned for 12 weeks to an HVEP (n = 21) or to a control group (n = 12). All participants were advised to limit energy intake, and the HVEP group was also counseled to take part in moderate-intensity exercise resulting in energy expenditure of at least 2000 kcal/week. Repeated measures analysis allowed determination of treatment effect.

In the HVEP group, more than half (53%) of participants expended at least 2000 kcal/week during the last 4 weeks of the study, and 82% expended at least 1500 kcal/week. Compared with the control group, the HVEP group had significant improvement at 12 weeks in step count, reported time spent and energy expended during moderate physical activity, maximal oxygen consumption relative to weight, and incremental area under the postprandial blood glucose curve (group-by-week effect: P = .009 – .03).

“We found that participants in the exercise group increased their daily step count from about 4,500 to nearly 10,000 so we know that they weren’t reducing their physical activity levels at other times of the day,” Dr. Garg said. “We also found that while all participants lost an average of 10 pounds, those in the exercise group became more aerobically fit.”

Some quality-of-life scales improved significantly in both groups. The groups did not differ significantly in changes in weight, energy and macronutrient intake, resting energy expenditure, fasting lipids and glucose, and fasting and postprandial insulin concentrations.

“HVEP is feasible in about 50% of the patients and enhances physical fitness and reduces postprandial blood glucose in bariatric surgery patients,” the study authors write.

Limitations of this study include short duration, small sample size, dropout rate higher in the control group vs the HVEP group, dietary and exercise counseling provided at an individual level and not at the group level, and use of an unsealed pedometer to measure physical activity.

“Whether a HVEP helps to maintain weight loss and improvement in comorbidities in these patients remains to be evaluated in long-term studies,” the study authors conclude. “The studies also need to assess how exercise over the long-term effects factors that influence energy balance including energy intake, nonexercise activity levels, body composition, metabolic rate, and gastrointestinal hormones related to satiety and hunger.” [end of article].

Interestingly, the exercise group did not lose more weight than the control group – but as many people know – exercise and physical fitness are important for more than just weight maintainance.

Aerobic exercise, in particular is important for cardiovascular health.  Physical activity is also important for bone and muscle strength and general performance status and maintenance of activities of daily living (ADLs).  All of these contribute to the overall quality of life for individuals.