Submitted by Jennifer Clark, M.D.
Obesity is a complex condition that places a substantial burden on patients. Not only does excess weight gain increase one’s risk for many serious health issues, including coronary artery disease, obstructive sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and various malignancies, but obesity and its associated health problems also result in significant economic impact for individuals and the United States health care system as a whole. Additionally, the emotional impact of obesity should not be forgotten; studies suggest that obesity and depression often go hand-in-hand. Obese individuals are at a significantly higher risk for major depression, and the burden of depression is often reduced with sustained excess weight loss.
Even as obesity continues to affect a greater number of this country’s adults, more and more treatment options are becoming available to assist patients with losing weight. However, these treatments involve a dizzying variety of risks, benefits, cost, and relative impact, making for a difficult decision for patients and a challenging discussion for physicians. The importance of this patient-physician interaction and the presence of shared decision making is apparent, as the treatment of obesity, like any other chronic disease, cannot be separated from the patient’s life and circumstances. Instead, it must be personalized and integrated into the context of one’s life.
The patient-physician conversation is an important setting for exploring how current evidence and knowledge may help patients clarify which treatment option makes intellectual, practical, and emotional sense for them. Shared decision making (SDM) tools used during the clinical encounter support these vital conversations about diagnostic and treatment decisions. Such tools have been devised for complex conditions including diabetes, Graves’ disease, and rheumatoid arthritis; however, no SDM tools have yet been developed to support conversations about the treatment of obesity. Therefore, I have decided to join the Knowledge and Evaluation Research Unit to work with the team in developing a SDM tool for obesity treatment. Once created, it will facilitate patients’ engagement in the decision-making process to ensure that the chosen treatments are congruent with each patient’s values, preferences, and lifestyle.
I am very honored and eager to begin working with patients in this capacity as a compliment to my clinical training as a resident physician here at Mayo Rochester. It is my hope that in working on this project, patients will be more confident, active participants in choosing the right treatment for them based on current evidence. I know that I will learn so much from the process and from patients, and I couldn’t be more excited to be working with the KER Unit to further the cause for patient-centered outcomes and research!
Jennifer Clark is an Internal Medicine Resident at the Mayo Clinic.