A new take on 'BMI'

Otago and Victoria University researchers use a fat simulation suit to help healthcare workers better understand and care for their patients.

The unique tool will enable the healthcare industry to improve support for obese patients.

Dr Caz Hales, who is a lecturer at Victoria’s Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, is part of a new initiative called BMI, which in this case stands for bariatric management innovation, rather than body mass index.

Caz says the aim of the BMI initiative is to ensure that very large patients receive safe, appropriate and equitable care.

“A major issue for very large patients is the need for specialised equipment that actually fits properly, which is obviously essential to ensuring they get the best care and are able to rehabilitate properly,” she says.

“We are working with industry providers—in this case Essential HelpCare—and healthcare professionals, as well as examining care from the perspective of obese patients in order to best understand where the issues lie.”

One tool the BMI team is using is a simulation suit, purchased by the Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice at Otago University, Wellington, for research and teaching. “The suit replicates the experience of being physically larger and we’re using it to help healthcare professionals empathise with larger patients. The feedback we’ve had so far is that it’s a very powerful tool—it shows health professionals just how vulnerable this group of people is.

“The issue isn’t going away. We have a high obesity rate in New Zealand—about 30 percent of the general adult population, 47 percent of Māori adults and 66 percent of Pasifika adults are classified as obese.

“However, our focus is not trying to change larger patients or engage in weight-loss conversations with them. When these very large patients come into care—be that hospital, a rest home or even palliative care—they should feel safe and they should be able to expect the same level of care as any other patient.”

Caz is working on the project with Lesley Gray from Otago University and Todd Bishop, who is the chief executive of Essential HelpCare, a company that provides equipment to hospitals and other healthcare providers.