Treating obese patients
the right way

By Michael Klein

Imagine it is four o’clock on a hectic Friday afternoon and you are working feverishly to get your monthly budget report finished on time. Your secretary interrupts you with an urgent phone call from the Admissions Department.

A 450-pound patient has just been admitted for severe health problems and there are no wheelchairs or stretchers large enough to transport him. The nurse manager on the floor says there are no beds large enough to handle his weight, nor does she have lifts, scales, commodes, lateral transfer units, or even walkers large enough for him.

Sound familiar? If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will soon. Nearly 135,000,000 adults in the US are either overweight or obese; 14,000,000 are considered morbidly obese, and an amazing 1,000,000 are considered mega-obese. The age of the bariatric patient is here and with it comes the need for special equipment and amenities.

About 126,000 weight loss surgeries were preformed in 2003. Dr. John MacQuire, bariatric surgeon at New Life Surgery in Dayton Ohio says, "It used to be maybe once every 2-3 years you’d find someone who was 500 lbs. for surgery. Now we see people weighing that much once a month".

With the average cost of weight loss surgeries at about $25,000 per surgery, both doctors and hospitals are profiting, however, the explosive growth in bariatric surgeries has also created a real challenge for hospitals and surgery centers. The demand for bariatric equipment is growing rapidly and meeting the special needs of obese patients can put a financial strain on any hospital system. Bariatric equipment is expensive to purchase, and even more expensive to rent.

Footing the bill

Some hospitals balk at the cost of purchasing bariatric equipment, however, not doing so can put doctors, nurses, and ancillary staff at risk. Can you imagine a 5’2", 120-lb. nurse trying to stop a 375-lb. patient from falling? There is no way to stop the fall, and trying to can result in back, shoulder, or neck injuries. According to Kay McVay, President of the California Nurses Association, "It takes between $40,000 - $60,000 to bring in a new nurse and get them up to par, so you don’t want that nurse hurt. The better a hospital takes care of its RNs, the more profitable that facility will be".

Even if a hospital decides to purchase bariatric equipment, just trying to find all the necessary equipment from one supplier can be frustrating. Joe Burns, President & CEO of the National Capital Area Shared Services Group, a regional GPO covering the Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia areas states, "It is difficult finding just one supplier who specializes in bariatric products. Purchasing managers have to call an assortment of vendors for different products which is costly and time consuming. Contracting with a sole source is an excellent way to secure standardization, preferential pricing, high quality, and unsurpassed service".

Sensitivity issues

There is another important aspect to consider, besides safety, when treating bariatric patients. Meeting the emotional and psychological needs of the bariatric patient and their families is quite different than for patients of normal weight. Janet Buhl, Nurse Manager at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point, NJ says, "Treating obese patients goes well beyond safety issues. It’s important to have all staff members sensitized to the issues and challenges faced by bariatric patients and their families". For example, simply having a bariatric room or lobby chair available is important. In addition to providing dignity and comfort for the patient, it also encourages the patient to get out of bed. After surgery, patients need to be up and moving as much as possible to prevent pneumonia, blood clots, and infections.

Overweight and obese people have a host of complex medical issues besides obesity; including hypertension, apnea, diabetes, and heart problems. As America’s obesity epidemic grows, the market will demand that hospitals, surgery centers, and even doctor’s offices become sensitized and committed to providing dignity, comfort, and safety to bariatric patients. HPN

Michael Klein is Vice President at TSK Products, Inc. in Eatontown, NJ. He has been in healthcare sales for almost 20 years. TSK Products is a minority-based, woman-owned business specializing in the sale of bariatric equipment and products. For more information please contact Mr. Klein at 732-241-0271 or