Industry insider offers advice for clinicians helping kids and families lead healthier lives
Obesity specialists are filling gaps in patient care by helping people make healthy behavior changes. In honor of National Childhood Obesity Month, read how Karli Burridge, PA-C, MMS, FOMA, obesity specialist and owner of Gaining Health, is at the forefront of supporting clinicians to improve overall health.
Obesity rates in the U.S. are rising, especially among children. According to the CDC, its prevalence in 2017-March 2020 was 41.9 percent – a significant increase from 30.5 percent in 2000. The World Obesity Federation predicts that if current trends continue, 51 percent of adults will be obese in 2035. Childhood obesity could more than double by 2035, compared to 2020.
Obesity costs lives and affects the quality of life. Complications among children mirror those of adults – Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, fatty liver disease and obstructive sleep apnea.
For Karli Burridge obesity statistics are alarming, but she also knows it’s not the end of the story for children and adults.
Every week, she hears from patients who feel better, have more energy, can go up stairs without pain and can go off medication like insulin. “The stories I hear from patients inspire me to keep going because you can make such an incredible difference in a person’s life by being able to help them with their weight,” she says.
After years of working in primary and specialty care, Burridge knows that obesity specialists are key to helping patients navigate healthy lifestyle changes. She’s developed dozens of programs from the ground up and today shares her knowledge and material with other obesity specialists through her site, Gaining Health.
4 tips for starting a new obesity practice
For those clinicians looking to start an obesity specialty practice, Burridge offers the following advice.
Create a business plan
Most clinicians aren’t taught in medical training how to run a business. Finding resources from clinician coaches, like Gaining Health, or online resources can set your obesity specialty practice up for success.
Your mission and vision should guide your business plan, says Burridge. This means identifying the specific problem you’re looking to solve, who you want to work with and how to put a program together that fits that population.
Plan for fiscal viability and the marketing you’ll need to achieve it
A great obesity specialty business idea is only achievable if it’s fiscally viable. This means having a solid plan for getting reimbursed for your services and learning how to promote your practice.
Use sensitive language
While obesity is a medical condition, the word itself can carry stigma. This is why many clinicians who work as obesity specialists don’t use the word in their business name.
Especially when working with children, Burridge recommends using language like elevated BMI, excess weight or unhealthy weight. She even avoids words like diet and exercise, using physical activity, nutrition plan or eating plan instead. “I recommend explaining the path of physiology so that patients understand this is not a matter of willpower. This is not their fault. It’s not something you do to yourself. It’s a medical condition.”
Let your clients set the goals
Especially when working with the pediatric population, you should focus on patients’ goals and individualized treatment plans. “What’s important to a 10 or 16-year-old is very different from what might be important to you as a clinician,” says Burridge.
Shared decision-making means your patient is more likely to achieve the desired goal. When working with children, this means asking for fun ways of being active with friends or choosing foods they might like from a list.
Starting a new obesity specialty practice is a lot of work, but Burridge says the need is great, and the rewards are many. “For years my patients felt like it was just their responsibility to figure this out. Now they’re getting help, and that burden is lifted off their shoulders by having someone support them.”
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