Medicare Will Pay for Obesity Counseling – Who Should Do It?

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • A recent news release revealed that Medicare Services will now pay for "screening and counseling" of Medicare-age patients who are seriously overweight or obese. Most experts agree that this new coverage is a good thing. In fact, it really stands as an acknowledgement that the government is now recognizing obesity as a serious health threat and as a contributing factor to many other health problems. Problem is, who should do the screening and counseling?

     

    If you look at the training that doctors get in school and even during internship and residency, there is little formal education on nutrition and fitness topics and general lifestyle, as it relates to weight. Sure, these doctors in training can connect the dots and recognize that engaging or not engaging in certain behaviors can lead to serious weight issues. But to institute prevention or treatment counseling is a whole other discipline that does require extensive understanding of what cause obesity and how to individualize treatment. A recent survey suggests that most doctors acknowledge that they have no prior training on weight-related issues and many also realize that their professional office staff may also be lacking in formal training.

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    On the plus side, there could be some basic continuing medical education classes offered now to sharpen doctor's abilities to begin the counseling process. Or doctors could simply screen patients and then write a prescription for lifestyle counseling, allowing Medicare to then cover the costs of other professionals. Or doctors could hire experienced professionals or pay for in-house training for medical assistants or nurses. Some recent studies have shown that doctors who did get some training, were then with the help of other staff members, able to provide counseling to patients, along with access to meal replacement dietary plans, and help patients achieve some moderate weight loss. Experts have suggested that obesity screening and counseling should possibly include a range of tools including phone support, internet support, gym memberships, and even personal training consults. If you look at a physician's average day, and the one-on-one time they can reasonably spend with patients, you begin to realize the limited impact a physician might be able to have in a weight loss supervisory position.

     

    Who can pick up the slack?  Dieticians and certified nutritionist will tell you they are "ready-willing-and able" to fill in the void if Medicare will formally agree to include their services in this new deal.

Published On: December 05, 2011