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Physician Tips: Talking With Patients About Weight Loss

Patients referred to liver specialists are likely to be overweight or obese, which in itself may be key to treating and obtaining positive outcomes for those patients.

Talking with patients about their weight, however, is often fraught with pitfalls and can trigger emotional responses that can seemingly hinder effective discussion of the issue; however, an emotional response may be just as likely to be the key to patient activation.

If a person has an emotional response to the subject of his or her weight, it is an opening to ask them how their weight is affecting their feelings about themselves, their relationships, and their loved ones. Getting to the “heart” of the matter is much more likely to establish the caring concern connection with them that is key to patient activation, according to a study by the Fairview Health Services. (See related post)

Researchers in that study found that clinicians acting with care and concern are better able to establish the strength of connection needed to convince patients that the effort to lose weight matters not just to you but to themselves and their loved ones.

Once you can get your patients to acknowledge that their weight is an issue broadly affecting their lives it is much easier to help them understand how it is specifically affecting their health. At that point patients are much more receptive to having a discussion about insulin resistance or liver fibrosis, and hopefully be able to formulate an action plan that will help activate them toward weight loss.

Acting as a coach rather than healthcare provider will help form a partnership to co-create goals and strategies for positive change. Helping patients identify the first small steps they can take, rather than prescribing them, will help them take ownership for their own health.

With those first steps completed successfully, you will be able to help your patients to formulate a plan of achievable goals that they can stick with. Helping them with goal setting that is specific, realistic, measurable and time-sensitive, is key to activation.

Another key is to offer lifestyle programs. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends offering or referring patients with obesity for intensive, multicomponent, behavioral interventions.[1]

If your hospital or practice offers weight loss programs or other behavioral interventions, encouraging patients to enroll is a good way to help them keep on track.  A 2012 Italian study showed that patients with NAFLD participating in a cognitive behavioral program significantly improved their general and liver parameters and sustained the beneficial effects at 2-year follow-up.[2]

The final key to talking with patients about weight is frequent follow-up contacts. The Fairview Health study found that frequent follow-ups are key to the coaching relationship and reinforce the caring concern connection so important to activation. Such follow-ups need not be face-to-face, successful clinicians also make effective use of the patient portals of their EHRs to communicate with patients. If your practice has an engagement marketing strategy that includes regular email or blogs or both, patient contact can include messaging useful tips for staying on track with weight-loss goals.

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HealthFACTR is an algorithm-based, broad spectrum health assessment tool targeting & visualizing several of the most critical risks to a person’s health and longevity. It is a scientifically based test addressing key focus areas adversely affecting human health. It has robust clinical support using state-of-the-art gold standard testing methods and backed up by hundreds of clinical support papers. Heart disease, Diabetes, Stroke, Liver disease, Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Cholesterol, Triglyceride, Blood Pressure, HDL, LDL, Diet Assessment, Fitness Assessment, Fitness Goals, Body Fat Analysis - are measured, individual risk assessed, and actions recommended to reduce disease progression. HealthFACTR provides detailed visualization into a person’s metabolic health risks and fitness.

Contact us via email, or by phone at 1-888-552-1603 today to learn more about our LiverFASt™ family of diagnostic tests and HealthFACTR services. 



[1] U.S. Preventive Services Task force, Obesity in Adults: Screening and Management

[2] Moscatiello, Luzio, et al. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Propensity Score-Adjusted Observational Study. Obesity, Sep. 6, 2012


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