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Treating morbidly obese patients adds considerable cost

Hospitals are expanding services, supplies and staff training programs to meet the needs of morbidly obese patients, according to a new report from healthcare supply contracting company Novation.

In its “2011 Bariatric Report,” a nationwide survey of VHA Inc. and UHC member hospitals, Irving, Texas-based Novation finds that hospitals have seen an increase in the admissions of obese patients and the associated treatment costs since its June 2010 survey. Of the responding facilities, 58 percent reported an increase in admissions of morbidly obese patients in the past 18 months.

[See also: Parents rank obesity low on list of conditions warranting medical attention]

Other key findings include:

• 41 percent of respondents indicate that they have bariatric surgery programs in their facilities. Of those, 94 percent indicate that their facilities offer gastric banding surgery and 78 percent have seen an increase in the number of bariatric-related reconstructive surgeries over the last 18 months.
• When asked about bariatric outpatient programs, 53 percent have a fitness program in their facilities, 61 percent have a weight loss program and 62 percent have a counseling program.
• When asked whether they rent or purchase equipment to accommodate morbidly obese patients, the majority of the member facilities purchased most types of bariatric equipment, and almost half of respondents (48 percent) rented/leased beds.
• Beds also account for the highest total costs and/or the greatest increase in bariatric product spending at facilities.
• 61 percent of the respondents indicate that their facilities provide special meals/supplements for morbidly obese patients.
• 29 percent indicate that in the past year, they invested in the physical renovation for their facilities to accommodate morbidly obese patients. The median estimated cost of all morbidly obese-related renovations is $128,000.
• When asked about workplace injuries in the past year related to caring for morbidly obese patients, 49 percent of the respondents have seen an increase while 51 percent have seen a decrease.
• Of the 51 percent of the respondents who have seen a decrease in workplace injuries, 81 percent of them believe that it was due to purchasing equipment or offering training programs.

“The survey results indicate that bariatric patient care continues to grow, and this growth adds to the financial pressures the hospitals are facing," said Cathy Denning, vice president, sourcing operations at Novation. “As you can see from the survey, around one third of the respondents invested in the physical renovation for their facilities to accommodate morbidly obese patients. And the median estimated cost of the morbidly obese-related renovations is $128,000.  When you add to this the cost of obesity-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, the financial implications increase.”

“That said, the survey showed encouraging signs that providers are emphasizing bariatric programs and training,” added Denning. “For example, 51 percent of the respondents have seen a decrease in workplace injuries, and of those, 81 percent believe that was due to purchasing equipment or offering training programs.”

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