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For Bariatric Educators

The Dangers and Benefits of Using Bariatric Patients in your Program

Through the years, I have been a strong advocate for involving patients in bariatric aftercare programs. Most agree that successful patients bring more patients, but there is also an important role they can play in both support groups and aftercare educational programs. Successful patients bring personal experience, knowledge and lifestyle habits, that when given the opportunity to share, enrich and enhance a programs ability to really connect. In our survey of over 1,000 bariatric patients, we learned that over 64% prefer that a post op bariatric patient lead support groups!

This is an important message to hear and respond to. Involving a well-trained professional team of RD’s, RN’s, exercise and mental health professionals is essential, but what I believe what we are hearing is a desire for fewer lectures and more real-world discussion about and from bariatric patients.

Unfortunately, there are a few concerns and challenges that a bariatric program may face when having non-healthcare professionals teach lessons, lead support groups and run programs. I believe the concern is two-fold. 1. Losing control over the group and 2. Liability issues. Let me share an experience that addresses both.

Years ago, a large bariatric program in Ohio recognized that their patients had been starting support groups in the outlying areas. Lots of them. At first, it felt like losing control, but they smartly decided to embrace the leaders, support their efforts, and provide some structure. They invited as many support group leaders as they could find, into their hospital. The provided a light lunch, networked with them and learned about their groups. They had them sign support group leader agreements which covered a variety of liability and confidentiality concerns. I was brought in to provide training for their bariatric patient support leaders, help establish topic schedules, and implement good communication between the patient support leaders and the hospital.

They continued their hospital-based group, but also provided new patients with a list of smaller, local groups they could attend online in their own area. Now they had a network of support groups, all teaching the same monthly lesson plan, encouraging prospective patients to choose their awesome hospital and welcoming new patients into the fold. The results were exceptional!

In addition to having bariatric patients lead support groups, consider what a great help they can be in planning holiday parties, family summer socials, and patient educational events.  There are many patients who have skills and experience as educators, speakers and organizers. And you will not find a more willing group of people willing to give back by paying it forward.  Lighten your load, expand your outreach and engage your patients.

To learn more consider our Bariatric eLearning module:  Energizing Your Support Group with Patient Volunteers

It is exciting to see support group participants reach out to one another, cultivate new relationships, and truly connect with others in their group. Surely, there are many great benefits from attending  – new friends, new fans, new supporters.

However, if you are paying attention, you may find that smaller cliques are starting to form. Cliques might include those who have had a similar procedure, or surgery at the same time. All well and good as long as new group members don’t feel excluded, left out and like they don’t belong. Here are a few tips to help you ‘manage’ your support group as you do your best to ensure that everyone feels apart, wanted and needed.

  1. Notice newcomers who may be alone. As a busy group leader, you may not have time to notice yourself, but what if you assigned a few of your veteran patients to serve as sort of a welcoming committee? Patients who have been around awhile, who may be losing interest in support group. Give them an opportunity to give back.
  2. Be deliberate about segmenting your large group. You may find that what they are seeking is more intimate conversation. Many feel more  comfortable sharing and asking questions in smaller groups. If your group is large, consider having them meet all together for the first half- then let them know that they will have the opportunity to join smaller discussion groups for the last half. Organize them by topic interest, stage of weight loss, month of surgery, type of procedure, or any number of ways.
  3. Know your support group members. This takes not only focus, but skill. It’s hard sometimes to remember names let alone a patient’s likes and dislikes. But imagine how united your group would feel if you gave them opportunities to share with one another more than just their weight, their non-scale victories and their questions. Learning to live a bariatric lifestyle is about more than just food. Give them a chance to connect on another level. Feature more lifestyle lesson discussions like relationship changes, fitting in, exchanging habits, paying it forward. Help them be people, not just patients.
  4. Play fun, interactive getting to know you games. Having a fun, participatory activity during support group, will help all members stay involved and engaged. By organizing teams you will give them the opportunity to mix and mingle with other group members they may not otherwise know.
  5. And, yep, as you may know we have lesson plans, games and activities ready to go. Check them out: (Digital Support Group Lesson Plans).

Tips For Stress Free Support Groups

My how time flies when things are crazy busy! At BSCI, are busier than ever doing all we can to support you, the bariatric professional, as you work to provide quality support and educational programs for your patients. We know that those who work in the bariatric community are some of the most talented, dedicated, genuine people anywhere. And we are keenly aware of the many hats you wear. You work tirelessly to improve the health and well being of the patients you serve. But, what about you? What about YOUR health and well-being?

For many, support group night comes at the end of an exhausting full day of work. The time and energy it takes to pull together a meeting agenda, lesson topics and activities when your best self has been all but spent, can turn what might be a fun and fulfilling end to you day to a dreaded obligation. We hear you! We have put together some helpful tips for Bariatric Support Group Leaders to help reduce your stress while planning, preparing and facilitating great meetings.

1. Calendar topics in advance. Time spent planning several months or even a year ahead for support group topics, guest speakers and activities will pay off great dividends especially on those crazy busy days. Survey patients for hot topics, reach out to other professionals, vendors and educators and schedule them in. Having a plan will reduce your stress and let your patients know in advance what great meetings they can count on.

2. Involve more patients, more often. Our research has shown clearly that patients want more patient involvement in support groups. You likely have a room filled with willing volunteers to contribute in a big way. Patient volunteers can arrange for room set up, welcome at the door, arrange for spotlight patient presentations, serve on special event committees, and even research and present a lesson topic. While it takes a bit to get organized, set guidelines and communication, involving patients will help them engage, while giving you a helping hand.

3. Invest in Lesson Plans. Since 2000, BSCI has been known for our research based, quality support group lessons. Each has a lesson plan, handout, activity and visual aids. Have a topic in mind that you don’t see? Let us know, we’ll put our heads together and see what we can come up with. Remember, those attending support group come for a variety of reasons. A good facilitator will incorporate a variety of teaching methods to give each participant opportunity to learn, grow and share in their own way. And in doing so, make the meeting exceptional!

4. Use readily available newsletter articles, stories and research. It is likely that you receive a variety of eNewsletters, updates, articles and research notifications every week from various sources within the bariatric community. For an easy and fun support group on the fly, print out several articles, ask patients to read aloud, then discuss by asking questions like: “Is this true for you?” or, “please share your thoughts and experience on this topic.” If the group is large, you could divide up, have each smaller group take a topic, discuss, then share with everyone.

5. End on time then go home! Many patients enjoy the social aspect of support groups and often meetings seem to go on forever and end way too late, especially for busy professionals. First, set your boundaries. Establish a reasonable time to end, and stick to it. (We find that most groups are about 1/1/2 hours). Dismiss everyone and suggest that those who want to continue visiting meet ‘in the lobby, or turn out the lights when they leave. You may want to ask a patient volunteer to arrange for the after support group get together. Finish your meeting on time – then, go home!  Go see your family and take care of you! We need you.