Meet Your Bariatric Weight Loss Team
The bariatric surgeon who performs your weight-loss procedure will be key to your success, but several other team members will be at your side through this life-changing journey. Here’s what to expect:
The A-List Specialists
Every medical practice has its own setup, but bariatric offices typically include a crew of nurses, physician assistants, nutritionist experts and mental health counselors, among others. These experts might be staff members or could be recommended on a referral basis. Either way, meeting with them will likely be part of your preparation.
- The surgeon. During an initial meeting, your surgeon will go over your eating habits, your expectations and which types of bariatric surgery would be the best for your needs. Before the operation, you’ll likely meet with the surgeon a second time to review what the process will be like and to discuss possible complications.
- Nutritionists and/or dietitians. To make sure you get all nutrition you need throughout the process, you will meet with a nutritionist or dietitian who specializes in weight-loss patients. This expert will share important information and make dietary changes less overwhelming. You’ll need to follow a liquid protein diet two weeks before surgery and again afterward, gradually adding back solid foods in phases. You will also be given a list of supplements that will provide vitamins and minerals your body may no longer absorb easily. Plus, you’ll need guidelines about how to get into the groove of maintaining a well-balanced diet of appropriate foods. You might be invited to a group class so you can learn what to expect, or you might have one or more one-on-one meetings. Either way, you’ll leave with literature spelling out effective eating rules for weight-loss patients. Some surgeons’ offices also have monthly support groups, online or in person.
- Licensed mental health counselors. Undergoing bariatric surgery is, to be blunt, a big deal. To make sure you are emotionally prepared — and therefore most likely to have a healthy and productive future — you’ll be asked to meet with a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker before surgery. That specialist will make sure you’re mentally ready for the challenges ahead. Expect to be asked a lot of questions, which are part of a standard assessment. The point is to suss out a wide range of potential issues such as eating disorders, stress eating, anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism or a history of other addictions. If one or more of these is a potential issue, you’ll be guided to counseling. Once you’re back on track, you’ll be ready to proceed with the surgery.
- Nurse practitioners. With advanced degrees and years of experience, nurse practitioners are prepared to handle higher-level medical tasks. You might spend time with one to get a pre-surgery physical checkup and to discuss the results of your post-surgery lab tests — including the ones that reveal if you’re absorbing all the nutrients you need. Nurse practitioners might help you comply with a mandated diet and exercise plan, and discuss potential medication alternatives.
The Behind-the-Scenes Team
While you’ll personally be involved with the surgeon, nutrition and mental health expert, other staffers might be working behind the scenes to help make the process as easy as possible.
- Research coordinator. About 250,000 people a year have bariatric surgery in the United States. To help physicians keep up with the newest findings, some bariatric practices have a research coordinator on staff. That person gathers analytical information, assesses it and shares key elements with the medical team. For example, the coordinator might study new findings detailing the differences between traditional and single anastomosis duodenal switches. Having access to the most recent scientific study results helps surgeons direct patients to the best options. The research coordinator will also seek out and review studies about medications. Recently, for instance, it was shown that using something called TAP blocks during surgery reduces the need for painkillers in the hours afterward.
- Patient navigator. A patient navigator is the one-stop-shop for a surgeon’s patients. In this position, a person is dedicated to guiding you to the right place for collecting and completing paperwork, scheduling appointments and bloodwork, receiving insurance approval, getting cardio clearance and similar tasks.
- RN care coordinator. If you call with medical questions, this nurse will take your call, review your test results, explain abnormal test results and make sure you wrap up all necessary medical efforts before surgery day. Medical assistants assist with these tasks, especially prepping charts for physicians, gathering test results and filling out certain forms.
As at most medical practices, you’ll also encounter receptionists, scheduling coordinators, and people who verify insurance coverage and payment options. Each position will be staffed by well-trained individuals who know exactly how to guide you in one or more area.
It can take from four weeks to six months to have weight-loss surgery — from the time you attend an in-person or virtual informational visit to the day you’re wheeled into the operating room. Thankfully, a well-orchestrated group of professionals will be at your side.
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