Medical Weight Loss “Mini-clinics” in Primary Care.

Mohammed Tarrabain, MD. Family medicine and obesity medicine (double board certified)

St. Vincent Health, Indianapolis, USA

Dr. Tarrabain consultant speaker (2016) for Novo Nordisk (Saxenda) and reported no potential conflict of interest relevant to this article.

Introduction and background:

Primary care is arguably an ideal place to provide weight management as most health service contact with obese people occurs there, and people may be more responsive to advice when it is linked to health-related issues.1

In the USA, guidelines for screening and management of obesity in adults have been extensively updated (Table1). The American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy in June 2013 recognizing obesity itself as a disease, with the hope that doing so will help change how the medical community tackles this costly epidemic.2,3

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) 4
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force USPSTF5
The Endocrine Society 6
The American Heart Association (AHA)/American College of Cardiology (ACC)/The Obesity Society (TOS)7

(table1) Current obesity guidelines.

Pharmacotherapy according to the new guidelines can be considered as an adjunct to comprehensive lifestyle interventions.3The rationale for use of medications is to help patients adhere to a lower-calorie diet more consistently.7 More recently, there was the introduction and marketing of new FDA drugs for weight loss.8-11

Reported physician barriers to obesity guideline adherence often include time and reimbursement, competing medical issues, and lack effective weight loss tools. 12, 13This results in negative perceptions of patients’ unwillingness or inability to change.

According to new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines, physicians are now allowed to bill for intensive multi-component counseling for weight loss. 14 Reimbursement for these health care services would be collected by providers as long as it remains only in the primary care setting. (Table 2) Physicians would follow usual procedures and proper medical documentation when treating obesity and its comorbidities.15 (Table 3)

CMS obesity coverage; (allowed number of visits) / notes
One face-to-face visit every week for the first month; (4 visits)
One face-to-face visit every other week for months 2-6; (8 visits)
One face-to-face visit every month for months 7-12; (6 visits) / To be eligible for additional face-to-face visits occurring once a mo for an additional 6 mo, beneficiaries must have achieved a reduction in weight of at least 3kg over the course of the first 6 mo of intensive therapy.
Methods of reimbursement / notes
Diagnosis / Obesity unspecified.
Morbid obesity.
Evaluation and management / Co-morbid conditions will increase the reimbursement level. Examples: dyslipidemia, and hypertension. And of course diabetes, or impaired fasting glucose, impaired glucose tolerance (insulin resistance), pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

(Table 2) CMS obesity reimbursment.

(Table 3) Obesity and its comorbidities reimbursement.


Over the past 2 years, we have successfully implemented a guideline based obesity management program for our patients in the primary care. Presented here are highlights of this work and a discussion about obesity practice models.(16)

Program description:

Patient Recruitment: Adult patients coming for wellness exams, or other medical issues including weight. In later stages, referrals from various sub-specialties (orthopedics, spine, pulmonary and GYN) and other primary care doctors and patients by word of mouth.

Clinic Personnel: Physician support staff consisted of one clinical medical assistant (who rooms patients, takes vitals, updates medication lists, and starts office notes), triage nurse (manages phone calls), and office front desk staff (scheduling and billing). No dietician or weight loss trained counselors were included.

Office Visits: Obese patients would be informed about medical weight loss treatment in our clinic. Then, he or she was given a specifically created “Obesity History Form” to fill out. (Table 4)

“Obesity History Form” information
  1. Patient demographics.
  2. Does patient have a primary care physician?
  3. Current medications (including over the counter)
  4. Medical history relevant to obesity: CVD, DM, and other as thyroid, PCOS and depression.
  5. Family history of obesity and comorbidities.
  1. Personal body weight trends (when started to gain weight, what were events or reasons, and why wants to lose weight now)
  2. List of previous diets (here we ask if patient has ever considered bariatric surgery in past)
  1. Dietary patterns in a typical day (meals, snacks, fast food and drinks). Eating behaviors including food cravings, hunger and satiety; in addition to stress and emotional eating.
  2. Lifestyle and activity (description of usual energy levels, personality traits, occupation) and exercise.
  3. Assessment of levels of confidence and motivation to change habits and lose weight.

(Table 4) Obesity History Form (Original form concept by American Society of Bariatric Physicians©)

After detailed history, the physician performs a physical exam and orders labs (fasting lipids, HbA1c, metabolic panel, thyroid levels and other per clinical relevance ex. fasting insulin, vitamin D). Brief counseling on lifestyle treatments was done by the physician himself and each patient was given printed handouts on diet and activity. Current FDA approved “anti-obesity” medications for treating weight were mentioned. The importance of achieving medically significant weight loss and then maintaining long term was discussed. Before the visit was concluded, weight goals were agreed upon. This entire initial visit was usually 30 to 45 minutes long.

The patient would then schedule a follow up appointment within two weeks for review of specific conditions and lab results. Weight loss assessment and lifestyle counseling continued. Here a weight loss medication was prescribed after risk and benefits of selected agent reviewed. The patient would be informed about the need for regular office follow up to monitor therapy and continue treatment plans. These visits were 15 to 30 minute encounters.

At the six months mark, the total weight loss was calculated and a repeat of blood labs done. Medication and lifestyle interventions continued per current obesity guidelines for long term weight loss maintenance.


Obesity practice management is now very much evolved. 17 (Table 5) Research was long needed on different models of managing weight in primary care practice.18 Based on our program; we here discuss a few models of such medical weight loss “mini-clinics.”

Obesity Practice Management
A. Initial
  • Awareness of Societal Cost of Obesity
  • Obesity Management Guidelines and Recommendations
  • Reimbursement and Coding
B. Office Procedures
  • Policies and Protocols
  • Staff Training Techniques
C. Interdisciplinary Team
  • Role of Team
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Advocacy
/ D. Other
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Patient/Family/Caregiver Engagement
  • Culturally Tailored Communication
  • Mental Health
  • Cost Effectiveness of Treatment Options
  • Presentation of Success Rates

(Table 5) Obesity practice management.

Chronic Care Model (CCM) model: described as “evidence-based interactions between an informed, activated patient and prepared, proactive primary care providers.” It aims to increase physicians’ efficacy which should ultimately have positive effects on their clinical practice and patient outcomes. From our experience, this requires increasing knowledge (CME, training), effective tools (accurate guidelines, medications), and support (staff, resources).

Patient centered medical home (PCMH) model: defined as “a group of physicians who practice together in collaboration with nurses and other health care professionals all responsible for ensuring health services in a given population.” This would result in improved accessibility and continuity of care. Obesity could be addressed in PCMH with patients as center of care or “triple aim” (Figure 1). Benefits of such framework include quality (patient outcomes, higher patient satisfaction), efficiency (lower total costs of care) and physician productivity (providing needed services).

(Figure 1) Patient centered care.

Obesity “teams” model: or discreet weight management clinics. 19 (Figure 2) This would have implications for obesity treatment approaches and tools including interdisciplinary referrals (medical, surgical). It may be the most integrated obesity management model and we currently have only begun to scratch its surface.

(Figure 2) Obesity management.

Suggestions and recommendations:

1) Weight loss medications approval and availability.

2) Adoption of “medical weight loss” joint principles. (Figure 3) (Figure 3) “Medical weight loss” joint principles.

Next Steps (Homework)

  1. Begin discussions about where the additional resources will come from.
  2. Build weight loss leading teams. (Figure 4)
  3. Launch pilot “weight loss mini-clinics.”

(Figure 4) Weight loss leading teams.


St. Vincent Medical Group. Westfield Primary Care team.

The “Obese” patient.


Mohammed Tarrabain, MD. 14828 Greyhound Court, suite 100. Camel, IN 46032, USA.


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