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