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Creating a patient-positive care environment in your medical practice

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A positive strategy to help patients with obesity is to help set realistic goals.

Patient-positive healthcare environments might not get as much air time as treatment approaches and emerging research, but they can be just as vital for improving patient health. When patients feel welcomed, comfortable, engaged and respected, they are better equipped to achieve their long-term health objectives. As healthcare providers, it is our job to make sure we create environments that support every patient.

A general strategy I prioritize is by helping patients with obesity to set realistic goals. I always inform patients about current guidelines when goalsetting. For example, if a patient is considering a certain medication, I will tell them at the forefront that we need to lose at least 5% body weight within three months per guideline recommendations, or we will need to move on to a different medication. This gives the patient a realistic target as well as motivation to achieve it.

Another way to help patients with obesity achieve their health goals is by walking them through step-by-step treatment approaches. In my clinic, I make sure they understand that obesity is a chronic disease just like diabetes or high blood pressure — if something does not work, we try something else. This allows me to introduce different regimens and treatments in a step-wise manner to help patients achieve their end goals.

1. Creating a patient-positive clinic atmosphere

There are a spectrum of ways to create a patient-positive care environment — from the way a patient books an appointment and the furniture in your waiting room to hospitable gestures and your treatment approach. Even better, most of these are low-cost and time-saving ways to do this.Consider these tips:

  • Gather preferred pronouns

When scheduling patients, staff should be trained to gather preferred pronouns and names. This information should be readily available in patients’ files so everyone who cares for them is properly informed on how the patient should be addressed.

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  • Provide bariatric chairs and, if possible, bariatric toilets

Waiting rooms and patient rooms equipped with bariatric chairs are inclusive of patients with overweight and obesity. If cost-permissible, a weight management clinic should also invest in bariatric toilets.

  • Offer flexible appointment options

Giving patients multiple options for appointments and providing reasonable accommodations is vital for a long-term positive care experience.

  • Be sensitive to language preferences

Strive to provide information in a variety of languages when possible ,for example, a native Spanish-speaking patient will likely appreciate being scheduled with a Spanish-speaking provider. Another way to respect language preferences is by offering printed and digital medical literature in the waiting room in a variety of languages.

  • Cater to children’s interests

Offering children's toys and books in the waiting room is always well-received by parents waiting for their appointment.

  • Allow enough time for every appointment

Always ensure you have enough time to spend with each patient so that neither of you feels rushed. This might be an unpopular opinion, but a strongly enforced "late for appointment" policy may be crucial for ensuring every patient receives their full-time allotment.

  • Increase telehealth options

When technology can enhance the patient-provider relationship, it’s a win-win. Offering ample virtual appointments better helps patients incorporate their health journey into their busy lifestyles — whether they travel often for work, live in a rural setting, are caretakers, etc; more than ever, healthcare flexibility goes a long way.

2. Personalizing patient interactions

Taking the time to get to know patients on a personal level and carefully broaching sensitive subjects can go a long way in creating a comfortable care environment. Consider these tips:

  • Offer simple gestures

Knock on the door and address the patient's name when entering the room. At the end of an appointment, walk the patient to the exit/front desk.

  • Acknowledge visitors

Welcome family and friends who accompany a patient's appointment and ask the patient if they are comfortable with them being in the room before the appointment begins.

  • Personalize the goal of the visit

Begin the appointment by asking the patient what their goal is for their visit.

  • Minimize technological distractions

When recording a patient’s health history, be sure to make eye contact and engage directly instead of typing away at the computer.

  • Preface sensitive subjects

Before transitioning to sensitive topics, ask for the patient’s consent. For example, "I have to ask you something sensitive, is that ok?"

  • Record personalized notes

Utilize electronic medical records (EMR) functions to save personalized updates and messages for the next visit. For example, "recently got married" or "has a dog named Barry."

Creating patient-positive care environments and staying up-to-date on the latest obesity treatment research is critical to helping patients achieve their health goals. Explore the best in obesity treatment resources and tools through the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA).

To learn more about obesity treatment or to become an OMA member, visit wwww.obesitymedicine.org/join.

Dr. Peminda K Cabandugama is a faculty member of the Cleveland Clinic Ohio, Endocrinology and Metabolism Institute, and the current sitting vice president of the Midwest Obesity Society. He is also a member of the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) Outreach Committee as well as a spokesperson for The Obesity Society (TOS).


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