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New BPC Effort on Health Professional Training Explores Ways to Drive Prevention-Oriented Care

Physical inactivity, obesity, and related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and hypertension, constitute some of the most challenging and costly public health threats facing America today. Just last week, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association discussed the trend of decreasing life expectancy and increasing obesity rates in the United States. Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are uniquely positioned to play a significant role in the prevention and management of these prevalent diseases as trusted sources of health information and guidance. Unfortunately, America’s health care delivery and health professional training systems do not currently give health care providers the expertise or incentives to deliver effective counseling about how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, diet, and physical activity level. Although some schools are making progress to better train health professionals to serve patients with obesity and chronic disease, meaningful progress will require widespread, systemic changes in how we train health professionals and how we pay for preventive care

The Bipartisan Policy Center has joined with the Institute of Medicine’s Provider Training and Education Work Group (PTE), part of its Integrated Health Model Innovation Collaborative, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in a new, collaborative project to address this challenge. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, this multi-year project will develop core competencies for obesity prevention, management, and treatment for the health professional training pipeline and identify payment policies that will incentivize the delivery of this care.

This collaboration builds on policy recommendations released jointly by BPC, AHG, and ACSM in a June 2014 white paper, Teaching Nutrition and Physical Activity in Medial School: Training Doctors for Prevention-Oriented Care. Noting the skills and knowledge gap that exists among medical professionals, it recommends improving nutrition and physical activity education for current and future medical professionals by developing and implementing core competencies to address, treat, and prevent obesity, as well as changing reimbursement policies to support health services that target lifestyle factors such as nutrition and exercise.

Our goal is for these core competencies to be implemented in training programs across the full spectrum of health professionals, from physicians to health coaches, nurses to exercise physiologists. Providing comprehensive and consistent reimbursement, across payers, will incentivize providers to deliver effective counseling about maintaining a healthy weight, diet, and physical activity level. We believe it is critical to advance both objectives at the same time. Training health professionals without a concurrent strategy to reimburse this type of care will not lead to meaningful change. And offering payment without having trained professionals to provide the care also will not result in improve patient care.

Systemic change of this nature will require sustained commitment by a wide variety of stakeholders. BPC, AHG, the PTE at the Institute of Medicine, and ACSM look forward to engaging a wide array of representatives in this field as they work toward achieving sustainable changes that will help health professionals across the system to more effectively deliver care to treat and prevent obesity and chronic diseases.

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