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Shorter Waits For Weight Wise

About four years ago, when I came to Alberta to take on the role as Medical Director of the Edmonton Weight Wise Program, there was a waiting list of over 2000 patients to be seen in the adult speciality clinic at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. This waiting list was growing by about 50-100 new referrals a month, a rate far exceeding capacity to see new patients.

Since then, as long-term readers of these pages may recall, a number of important measures were implemented, that have brought down wait times from over 24 months to currently less than 6 months – a situation readily explained by the fact that patients are now moving through the program (and, if required, on to bariatric surgery) at a rate almost one-third faster, than when I first took over the program.

Thus, through a combination of changes to how patients are referred to the program, what they do while on the ‘waiting list’ and due to efficiencies and increased capacity within the program, more patients are being seen within waiting periods that are shorter than ever before.

Much of this starts with the referral process – by ensuring that family doctors refer only patients, who do not have obvious barriers to participating in a speciality care bariatric program (like for e.g. complex and uncontrolled mental health problems), resources within the program were freed to deal with patients who can actually be helped at a bariatric centre.

Offering patients ‘education modules’ in the community setting prior to entering the program also resulted in patients being better informed and prepared by the time they were seen at the speciality centre, thereby significantly cutting times spent within the clinic.

Once patients enter the specialty clinic, a designated nurse case-manager ensures that they see the appropriate allied health professionals (dieticians, psychologists, occupational and physiotherapists, etc.) at the right time for the right level of intervention. Where possible, delivering counselling in group settings rather than one-on-one further increases efficiencies and takes advantage of the substantial benefits of ‘group learning’.

Finally, increased medical and surgical capacity has further shortened waiting times for patients approved for surgery within the program (down to a few weeks from previously several months).

As a result of these changes, progressively implemented over the past several years, we are now thankfully in a situation where new patients referred to the Edmonton Weight Wise program can be seen in the clinic within a few short months of referral.

Obviously, once word gets around that patients are no longer faced with a two-year wait, referrals may quickly increase to once again extend waiting times. However, with the recent announcement of additional resources for community and primary care (so that more patients can be managed there or at least be better prepared for speciality care) and additional capacity in speciality centres across the province, it is very likely that more Albertans with severe obesity can receive medical, and, if necessary, surgical attention quicker than ever before.

This is obviously good news for patients, who have decided that it is high time to tackle their obesity problem as well as for their caregivers, who can now help their patients access a wider range of treatment options within a reasonable time frame.

As the recently announced Alberta Obesity Initiative continues to roll out, I certainly hope that eventually all Albertans struggling with excess weight will have access to the level of care required to help them better manage their weight and reduce associated health risks.

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. wonderful news and congratulations to you and the whole team. For the future, I hope you will consider opening up the program to people with BMI of 30-35. I know its not a priority right now, but early intervention could prevent some cases of severe obesity.

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  2. I hate to say it, but judging from my family, the more medical intervention people get and the earlier it starts, the heavier they’ll eventually end up being.

    Most people with BMIs between 30 and 35 are going to benefit more from some regular exercise, a little attention to eating a healthy diet, some help with body image, and a stable weight – or whatever weight change happens naturally given the healthier lifestyle. That’s HAES (health at every size).

    I think there should be a HAES option for everyone, but it’s an especially good choice for the BMI 30-35 crowd. Maybe that would be a good thing to add to Weightwise? HAES support groups and HAES-centered fitness and nutrition programs as a first intervention for everyone; only intervention for some?

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  3. I would like to applaud the weight wise clinic for striving to decrease their wait times. I caution those reading though that while Dr. Sharma says wait times have decreased for those approved for surgery, I can speak first hand that it certainly is not a couple of weeks. I waited 5 months from approval to surgery. The one caution that I do advise for the clinic is to be careful not to try to move things too quickly. Most people need time to make changes in their lives that are going to be sustainable. Many of us have always been able to make the short term changes and without appropriate intervention and self awareness we could find a way to sabotage them as well. I believe the time it has taken to get me ‘through’ the program will just improve my success because I have made and sustained these changes through the duration. Having time will allow people to make mistakes, and subsequently learn how to forgive yourself and move forward.

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  4. I am forever greatful of the weight wise program, team and staff and medical support. As I am awaiting my cal from the Bariatric clinic, I have successfully lost 34 lbs and conitue to educate myself, about obesity and food. The classes are phenomenal, I am almost 40 and feel like I am learning everything new..first hand. I am excited for my new lifestyle and will be able to implement all this new founded educational resource, to my children and family. I am very impressed. It had been over a year, i dont think classes are too fast. each individual has a committment to the program and it is personal involvment at own pace. The program is always peer evaluated and looking to improve ways to better suits clients needs. I am impressed….

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  5. I think that offering this program to the people with the 30-35 bmi would do wonders for society as a whole. I know as a person within that range that it is very upsetting to know you dont qualify for help until you are over those numbers. I hate the feeling that i should gain more weight just to get help when i already hate how i feel and look now. Please help us before we put more of a burden on the health care system as well as our families and friends

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  6. Are there bariatric surgeons in Alberta that will perform surgery for people who are willing to pay out of pocket for the procedure???

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  7. I don’t know where these wait times have com from but Ive been in the program for over 2 years and they keep telling me another 9 months to 2 years before I can have surgery.

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  8. Stephen, I agree. I have been in the program since 2012 (had a fall off with too much stuff going on) got back on track, and was seen in January of 2015. I am still waiting for surgery and I have waited 15 months at this point.

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  9. I was recently approved for gastric bypass surgery and was told the wait time is now between 12 – 18 months. It seems the wait times are ever increasing….and especially for those who need to travel to Edmonton for surgery if living in a Northern community. Calgary seems to be far less a wait time…I would ask why the discrepancy…substandard treatment for those not in a metro area.

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  10. I am from SASKATCHEWAN, and have PCOD ( Poly=cystic Ovarian Disease) dignoise back in 1980’s, and a recent type 2 diabetic….and always been *Fluffy Fat*. It is my understanding that PCOD affects the hormones, and hormones to gain weight and hard to lose. I also have skin problems from this.

    Why is this not a chronic disease as PCOD can not be cured from my understanding. It should be acknowledged as a chonic disease — and the heavy weight associated with it. Saw you on the local news here, and just wanted to ask you that. Thanks

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  11. well my numbers are in the 30-35 bmi range.. however I have depression, anxiety, high Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, and type 2 Diabetes. but I cannot get help?? what has to happen a heart attack? I have hired a trainer and nutritionist, and have lost 9 pounds.. and there i sit. how sad that this is where i sit now.

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