Is Weight Loss A Viable Ancillary Business in your Practice?

Jul 09, 2014 at 04:47 pm by Staff

The size of the market, which is over $62 billion, is not even the most compelling reason for weight loss as an ancillary business. Physicians and administrators must find better ways to address obesity and its onslaught of comorbidities in order to thrive in evolving healthcare systems.

More Control Over Population Health Initiatives

The drift toward performance-based reimbursement has begun and whether you are participating in PQRS types of incentives or not, your practice will be affected.

Healthcare initiatives such as meaningful use and patient medical homes include documenting obesity and gaining more influence via clinical protocols to treat obesity. Integrating a comprehensive weight loss service into your practice supports these initiatives with more control over outcomes and reporting.

Patient satisfaction is also an increasingly important metric. They are no longer just patients, they’re customers. Nothing creates powerful experiences and testimonials like weight loss. When a patient makes such a big change in their life because your practice gave them the opportunity and support, the story generates positive reviews and referrals for your clinic.

Weight Loss vs. Therapeutic Lifestyle Modification

A key objective when I’m talking with a health practitioner or administrator is to clarify whether they are interested in just weight loss or weight loss + therapeutic lifestyle modification. There’s a substantial difference in operational requirements for these models, but without behavior change, outcomes are diminished and short-lived.

A recent study showed that 100 percent of surveyed doctors said they offer help to all of their overweight and obese patients. The same doctors’ overweight patients were surveyed and only 37 percent were aware their doctor could help with weight loss.

Suggesting a patient lose weight, prescribing a drug or recommending a diet is not enough. Integrating a proven weight loss service with intensive lifestyle modification will maximize your patient outcomes and practice revenue.

I’ve observed 2 common myths that keep practitioners from expanding their weight loss offering into a true lifestyle modification business.

Myth #1: I need to hire specially trained staff

Surveys show that many physicians don’t feel qualified to help patients with weight loss because they lack training in nutrition and behavior modification, and don’t have specialists on staff like dieticians or mental health professionals.

However, establishing a successful weight loss model in your practice does not require any nutritionists, dieticians or specially trained counselors.

The key consideration when integrating a comprehensive weight loss model is the level of support provided to your staff by your weight loss model partner. With the right tools and support, a motivated provider and trainable staff, any health care practice can develop a thriving weight loss service.

Myth #2: I should just refer patients to the bariatric center

Some otherwise interested physicians don’t pursue weight loss because they are part of a group that has a bariatric surgery program and offers medical weight loss as part of a stepped approach that ultimately ends with surgery.

Medical weight loss services intended to be an intervention (not pre-op protocols) should be completely separated from bariatric departments. If you have the autonomy to integrate an ancillary weight loss service into your practice, go for it!

Non-surgical weight loss is a very large market. Bariatric programs cannot reach all your patients and you can make an impact by giving patients another option in your practice.

A Proven Model For Weight Loss Integration

Now the big question is what should you look for in a weight loss partner?

A cash-based weight loss service is key to maximizing outcomes. Patients will invest in their own health if you have the tools to systematically engage those who are ready for change.

Lifestyle change isn’t something you can prescribe like a statin and expect results. Without requiring some “skin in the game”, patients won’t value the service and you will not be as successful in engaging those patients who are the most ready for change and willing to pay for it.

Your Tools for Outcomes Become Your Revenue Source

There’s no shortage of weight loss methods with nutritional supplements or replacements you can offer as tools for weight loss. However, utilizing products available only through licensed health care professionals is crucial to retain control over your business model.

Avoid franchise or licensing deals. Fees on top of product and sharing your profits can add unnecessary complexity into your operations. Also stay away from multi-level marketing product lines; MLM is not an appropriate model for health care and will not offer the professional level of support needed for a comprehensive program.

The product line you choose should be central to obtaining not just weight loss, but health outcomes related to addressing insulin resistance and preserving lean mass. Choose an extensively researched methodology with well-accepted science to ensure your credibility and good reputation. Gimmicks or controversial weight loss aids are not necessary and can ultimately hurt your bottom line and career.

Focus on Education and Lifestyle Modification

For your program to truly be about therapeutic lifestyle change, the education and tools to modify long-term eating choices are the most valuable elements.

The latest obesity treatment guidelines from the AHA, ACC and TOS, strongly recommend frequent in-person counseling vs. phone or online counseling, as studies show in-person visits result in twice as much weight loss.

An experienced consultant from the weight loss model you choose should be available ongoing to train and develop your staff into effective health coaches and share best practices for smooth integration into your practice. The product line should also have enough profitability to include the brief follow up visits, which will boost adherence and outcomes.

Extensive educational tools and resources, especially technology to enhance long-term weight maintenance is an important factor to evaluate.

By offering a weight loss service focused on maximum health outcomes (based on research and guidelines) providers will also maximize the revenue generated by the service.

Tim Buist is an independent medical practice consultant based in Orlando, FL, with 17 years of sales and marketing experience including Pharmaceuticals, Medical Device, Clinical Trials and Wellness. Tim works with a team of integration specialists who have implemented a comprehensive weight loss model into 4,500+ healthcare professional practices in the last 7 years. Learn more at or email

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