Obesity Surgery is not Just About Surgery

Over the next little while, I will be taking a few days off and so I will be reposting some of my favourite past posts. The following article was first posted on Feb 2, 2008:

With the “sensational” results of obesity surgery being publicized in the media, it is not surprising that expansion of bariatric surgery is receiving increasing support. In every province, health plans are carefully looking at expanding access for their populations.

In light of these development it may be time for a word of caution.

Obesity surgery is not just about surgery. In fact, even the most enterprising bariatric surgeons will readily agree that the actual surgery is just a small (but important) technical piece in the overall treatment plan.

No doubt, good surgical outcomes require well-trained experienced surgical teams but we know that much of the long-term outcome depends on what happens before and after surgery.

Done in the wrong patients with no or little long-term follow up, what could be a life saving operation can become a disaster – and weight regain is perhaps the least that can go wrong. Much more severe and potentially devastating are the nutritional deficiencies and the psychological and social consequences that are not seldom after surgery.

For surgery to produce good long-term results it is absolutely essential that as access to surgery expands, so does the pre-surgical selection and education process as well as the access to life-long post-surgical monitoring.

Expansion of surgical programs does not just need more surgeons and OR time – it needs dietitians, psychologists, physicians, occupational therapists, social workers and other health professionals who are trained and qualified to prepare and follow-up surgical patients.

In the end it will be family doctors who have to look after the 1000s of patients who will be asking for and undergoing surgery. Given the numbers of eligible patients and the geographic distances in Canada, this task of preparing and following patients for life cannot be performed by a handful of Centres of Excellence. This is particularly true for the adjustable gastric band, which while offering a simpler and safer surgical procedure, does require regular and ongoing adjustments to be fully effective.

If we hope to see the spectacular results from the published studies on bariatric surgery replicated in daily practice, we must start bringing primary care providers up to speed on counseling, preparing and following their patients.

Ignoring this task will leave 1000s of Canadians stranded post-surgery with nowhere to go when things go wrong.

Obesity surgery is NOT just about surgery.