Weight loss surgery is a major life decision that can drastically improve long-term health. Not only does it treat obesity, but also many of the other conditions associated with it, including diabetes and heart disease. Between 2017-2018, obesity in the United States was around 42.4% between 2017-2018. In 2017, 228,000 bariatric procedures were performed in the U.S., which equates to about 1% of the population as eligible for surgery. When surgery is a viable option, besides the clear health benefits, many people find their quality of life improves also.
So why is it, that when such a procedure can be so life-changing, it still carries so many outdated stigmas? People living with obesity already face many false ideas and assumptions. One 2018 study found that bias is present even among clinicians who specialize in obesity-related issues, endorsing ideas that obese people are “lazy”, or “weak-willed.” Obesity is not always strictly related to diet and exercise, with health conditions like an underactive thyroid gland also being a cause for weight gain.
However, even when people are treated through bariatric surgery, such as gastric bypass or a gastric sleeve, stigma still follows them. This is why some choose to not even disclose that they had surgery when weight loss becomes apparent. There is a widespread idea that surgery is the “easy way out” of weight problems, which is inevitably associated with laziness or lack of willpower. One doctor cited nearly 50 percent of the population believe weight loss surgery is done for cosmetic reasons.
These outdated perceptions mean that exploring weight loss surgery can bring trepidation and reservations from people without a strong support network. However, PatientPartner is a healthtech platform that aims to support patients considering bariatric surgery and navigate myths or stigmas they face as a result. PatientPartner connects patients awaiting surgery with those who have already undergone the same procedure, so past patients can act as “mentors” to people getting ready to start their surgical journey.
PatientPartner, a premium sponsor of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), offers patients considering bariatric surgery the opportunity to ask emotional and personal questions about the procedure and recovery. CEO George Kramb insists that the reason the platform has seen so much success in bariatrics is because it gives incoming patients “a safe place to come and ask the questions they are afraid to ask anyone else.” He explains: “We’ve heard time and again how stressful and vulnerable it is to find information about weight loss surgery, and we are normalizing the idea of talking about these procedures.”
COO and co-founder Patrick Frank says that the stigma associated with bariatric surgery is one of the largest roadblocks that prevent eligible patients from getting the procedure. “A lot of the patients we connect with don’t know who to talk to, or how to talk about the idea of surgery,” he says. “Contrary to what one might think, many times it is their closest network that provides the most bias towards the surgical option. This leads to an increased amount of guilt, shame, and demotivates individuals from pursuing options that would actually improve their health.”
What makes PatientPartner a uniquely supportive pre-surgical environment is that it provides access to a large network of people who were once in the same position as those exploring their options. “Our patient mentors have already been through the surgical journey, and are able to answer the personal questions you can’t get answers to anywhere else. We provide a safe place for potential patients to get real, unbiased answers from real patients who have already been through the same surgical journey,” Frank says. He adds that they find patients are more “motivated and empowered” to take their health into their own hands. “We are able to provide accessibility to a network that is able to provide answers and insights into what the surgical experience is like from a personal level.”
What sets these conversations between patients and mentors apart, is that they are significantly more emotional, relatable, and motivating than one that you might have with a physician. “Dealing with the stigma and judgment is extremely difficult and it is not something that can be dealt with alone,” Frank says. “But PatientPartner provides a direct network of experienced patients who are volunteering their time to help out those whose shoes they were once in.”
Find out more about PatientPartner here.