Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bariatric Surgery: An Option That Might Reduce Health Care Costs

Most likely you've heard the following media report: Obesity accounts for $147 or almost 10% of the health care cost in the U.S. each year. You’ve also probably heard that the obesity market has unrealized potential. The potential is unrealized because most weight loss methods are not successful at providing long-term weight loss. However, since reducing obesity in the U.S. can reduce health care cost, finding ways to treat obesity is of the utmost importance. Perhaps, bariatric surgery could play a larger role in this treatment.

One obesity-related disease that has added to the increase in health care cost is diabetes. According to a 2008 Lewin Group study, the 2007 U.S. price tag for diabetes treatment was approximately $115 billion. And even when a diabetes patient has insurance, out-of-pocket cost for the patient can be significant.

For those with diabetes, losing weight can lead to a reduction in associated symptoms. Indeed, for morbidly obese persons with diabetes, appreciable weight loss can stop the progression of the disease in many cases. Therefore, weight loss methods that are safe and effective may be vital to reducing diabetes and health care costs.

There are three weight loss approaches. They are lifestyle modification, obesity drugs, and bariatric or weight loss surgery. Although bariatric surgery is probably the most effective method for treating obesity, patients receiving the surgery have experienced serious complications.

However, significant progress toward decreasing the bariatric surgery-complication rate has been made. For example, according to a HealthGrades study, patients who have bariatric surgery at five-star rated centers (as determined by HealthGrades) have a 67% lower chance of experiencing complications. And a new risk management system "presented ... at the 26th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS)" can reduce post surgical complications by 65%.

Therefore, bariatric surgery might play a more prominent role in the treatment of obesity -- and thus a more important role in the treatment of diabetes. This, in turn, could put a dent in health care costs.

Bariatric surgical providers should take note of the above-mentioned HealthGrades study and the above-mentioned risk management system. Adopting practices followed by five-star rated bariatric centers and following procedures related to risk management could improve surgical services, and give a weight loss surgical provider a competitive advantage.

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