Based on data gained from recent studies, electronic health record (EHR) technology is positioned to make a significant impact in our country’s ongoing battle against obesity.
The United Health Foundation (2009) reported that the average American male gained 17.1 pounds between 1988 and 2008 and the average American female gained 15.4 pounds over the same period. The gradual fattening of the population has created a generation of Americans unaware of the fact that their lifestyle choices may be negatively impacting their health. Durant et al. (2009) found that people who did not identify themselves as obese were nine times more likely to recognize the possible health risks of their condition when informed of the effect of their weight on their overall health by their doctor.
A person with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30.0 is considered to be obese. Converting a BMI of 30.0 into a human representation is equivalent to that of a 5’ 10” male weighing 208 pounds. The next level, a 5’10” male weighing 244 pounds would fall into the morbidly obese category with a BMI of 35 or higher (UHF, 2009). Without some sort of flag or prompt it could be quite easy for a provider to overlook a patient’s incremental weight gain over an extended period of time.
According to Schriefer et al. (2009) the inclusion of a BMI prompt in patients’ electronic health records increased the likelihood that physicians would diagnose obesity in obese patients and refer them for treatment. Meaningful use certified electronic health records systems include automatic BMI calculation functionality and physician’s offices attesting to the meaningful use of EHR technology are required to gather vital signs including height and weight (used to calculate BMI) during each office visit.
Studies show that Americans are gaining weight and that people unaware of the associated health risks are much more likely to change their habits if their doctors address the situation. Research also tells us that healthcare providers are more likely to treat their patients for obesity if prompted with BMI information calculated by the clinical records system. Certified EHR systems provide BMI data to physicians as a matter of routine increasing the likelihood that they will use their influence to intervene and set the patient on a path to better health.
References:United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association, & Partnership for Prevention. (2009). The American Profile: Weight gained over the last 20 years. Durant, N., Bartman, B., Person, S., Collins, F., & Austin, S. (2009). Patient provider communication about the health effects of obesity. Patient Education & Counseling, 75(1), 53-57. Schriefer, S., Landis, S., Turbow, D., Patch, S. (2009). Effect of a Computerized Body Mass Index Prompt on Diagnosis and Treatment of Adult Obesity. Family Medicine, 502.