Avoiding Weight-Loss Pitfalls: How Organizations Can Strengthen Their Medication Strategy

Opinion
Article

When used correctly, weight-loss medications, such as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) medications, can be a tool to help reduce costs and provide clinical results.

Currently, we are undergoing significant shifts in health care. There are so many complexities to weight loss and the understanding of those intricacies are beginning to deepen as research into the biological mechanisms of weight loss expands. This is bringing new medications that directly address that biology, and it is not just glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists; there is an entire spectrum, and GLP-1s are just 1 of many effective existing medications with more coming in the pipeline.

The Real-Life Impact of Weight-Loss Medications

Weight-loss medication -- Image credit: Kassandra | stock.adobe.com

Image credit: Kassandra | stock.adobe.com

For years, there have been difficulties clinically to help people who would benefit from losing weight. Numerous failed drugs, poor behavioral support, and a general lack of reimbursement have all been major barriers to a successful launch of weight-loss medication. Given the pent-up demand and with the excitement and buzz around weight-loss medications, it can be easy to lose sight of the real-life impact of these medications: surprisingly, it is not just about weight loss. For those who want to, losing weight can be significant—but what about better sleep quality, more physical activity, or reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes? These medications help remove barriers that inhibit longer, healthier, and happier lives.

Comprehensive Weight Management
Weight-loss medications can be even more effective and beneficial when used as a part of a comprehensive weight management program. It seems obvious: calories in, calories out; however, the science of obesity is more complex than we ever imagined. So, how can organizations improve their weight-loss medication strategy to work smarter, and not harder?

  1. Have a science-backed behavior-change program: A good behavior-change program will teach skills that bring health benefits, increase quality of life, and help people adjust to living in their new size. Physically, these programs help maintain muscle mass and promote healthier muscle. In addition, a program that promotes physical activity lowers the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and even certain cancers. Other quality-of-life benefits—such as better sleep, better stress management, better coping skills, more enjoyable physical activity, among others—can also result from these programs.
    Another factor that is not always discussed is that when people lose a lot of weight, their life changes—and not always for the better. People look at them and treat them differently, pointing to the need for a strong behavioral program that addresses both physical and mental health.
  2. Use an experienced clinical team: It's all about having the right clinical team support with a provider who is board-certified in obesity medicine and experienced with these medications. With weight-loss medications, there's some art to the science, and patients need clinicians who know when to progress the dose and when to stop progressing, as well as how adverse effects (AEs) factor into that dosing schedule.
  3. Personalization is key: It begins and ends with personalized care. The behavioral program, the medication program, and the patient’s experience must all be individualized. One thing that can be easy to forget, especially when weight-loss success stories are shared across social media, is that everybody's personal journey is different. It can be easy for people to compare themselves to their neighbor, coworker, or a random stranger on the internet. Everyone has different struggles and different strengths, especially for the extremely complex journey to better health, and personalization can contribute to the engagement, medical adherence, and clinical success of a program.
  4. Prepare for demand to change: Contrary to the prominence in the headlines, there are still many misconceptions about the impact, AEs, duration, and logistics of taking weight-loss medications. But one thing is for sure—demand will continue to go up. The more the discussion shifts away from sensationalism and more toward the actual health benefits of being on these medications, the more people will be interested in them. Unfortunately, due to stigmatization and bias, weight is not widely accepted as a medical condition.
    Additionally, there is still a lot of resistance from people because these drugs can be a lifelong commitment. But think of it this way: many conditions tied to obesity have life-long medication usage, such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, lower back pain, heart disease, among others, and weight-loss medications are an opportunity to prevent all of those conditions. In addition, recent data has shown these medications can reduce the rate of strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, and symptoms of congestive heart failure, prompting many organizations to expand their offerings. For example, Medicare will reportedly soon be paying for these medications as a treatment for heart disease. All of these factors suggest that the demand for such medications will continue to skyrocket.
  5. Expect supply to expand: There are so many medications in the pipeline, including options that are more convenient, such as oral medications. Not only will they result in weight loss, but these medications have additional clinical benefits for measures such as liver fat, cholesterol and triglycerides. The pipeline is really exciting; though it appears a milestone or finish line has been achieved, the race hasn't even begun compared to the innovations that are coming.

The influx of noise in the health market—new weight-loss medications, the oversaturation of weight-loss solutions, and the sheer volume of misinformation—can make it difficult to decipher what makes the best weight-loss medication strategy for organizations. But the good news is that when used correctly, weight-loss medications can be a tool to reduce health care claims costs, provide clinical results, and improve the emotional and physical well-being of a population.

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