You’ve probably heard the term “access to care” many times when it comes to discussing the health of our country. But when we talk about obesity, what ideas does “access to care” bring to mind? Is it simply about going to a healthcare provider for help with weight management? Is it about getting bariatric surgery covered under your insurance? What do you think of?
Access to Care: It Encompasses More than You Might Realize
Let’s define access to care for obesity. At the heart of the matter, it’s all about people being able to access the individualized help they need to treat their obesity and/or manage the complete picture of their health. While this might sound simple, the issue gets more complex when you start to think about all the varying needs and challenges different patients face. For example…
Access to care means being able to utilize medical equipment that is accommodating. For a patient with obesity, this may include scales that measure higher weights and larger blood pressure cuffs that fit around the arm. It can also mean CAT scan and MRI machines that can perform imaging on patients of larger sizes. ALL types of healthcare providers should make an effort to provide this equipment beyond bariatric providers — including cardiologists, endocrinologists and others.
Eliminating Significant Hurdles
Access to care means being able to obtain healthcare services without unneccessary and significant challenges. Common challenges that many patients affected by obesity often face include:
- High costs of insurance coverage and few policies which cover obesity treatment services
- Tough requirements for bariatric surgery (having to attend monthly weigh-ins, undergo extensive psychological evaluations and meeting health clearances which frequently demand time off work)
- Transportation challenges (lack of vehicle; little money for public transportation, etc.)
- Long distances to equipped medical facilities and appropriate equipment
- Scheduling conflicts which are tough for busy and commuting patients
Qualified, Unbiased Health Professionals
Access to care means being able to utilize various types of trained healthcare professionals for weight management. These include obesity medicine physicians, nurse practitioners, dietitians, mental health counselors, bariatric surgeons and more. Furthermore, patients should be able to place their trust in providers and expect a safe environment free of weight stigma or discrimination.
Access to care means being able to obtain valuable, often life-saving, obesity treatment services which are covered by your insurance plan without exclusions — including bariatric surgery, pharmacotherapy, nutrition counseling and others. These services should exist on affordable health insurance plans.
Science-based and Lifelong Care
Access to care means obtaining treatment that is proven effective by science, research and sound data — including bariatric surgery and devices, pharmacotherapy, behavioral modification, mental health counseling and others. Furthermore, care should be accessible for the duration of a patient’s life because obesity is a chronic disease, even if a patient has achieved a healthy weight.
The Ability to Accept Care
Access to care means knowing that if you or someone is struggling with weight, you are deserving of help — including help from a professional. Care and treatment exist for you and you should feel comfortable accepting it. Obesity is not a character flaw and you are not failing if you are struggling.
Having the Complete Care Continuum
Access to care means being able to receive effective, comprehensive and respectful healthcare services, no matter what health conditions you present with at any time (cold back pain, etc.). Your weight should not be a factor in the quality of care provided to you at your visit.
Putting it All Together
To summarize, access to care has a simple definition but it means many different things to different people, depending on their needs and limitations. However, we should all be able to agree that obesity is not a patient’s job to manage alone, anyone’s fault, or cured simply with healthy food, exercise or a miracle treatment. Help for obesity is out there, but more patients need to be able to acquire it in a way that fits their schedule, budget, health conditions and more.
For tips on taking #OACAction to improve access to care, please CLICK HERE.