Telemedicine for Obesity: Get Used to It

At Home with TelemedicineReady or not, it’s time to get comfortable with the idea of telemedicine for obesity care. Because the unfolding coronavirus pandemic is making it a fact of life. Wired describes it as a safety valve for a strained healthcare system. In addition, less personal contact is a tool for slowing the spread of this virus. So both doctors and patients are turning to it now.

But more important, telemedicine may simply be a way for more people to receive care for obesity. In fact, it may be the only way to reach the people who need it.

100 Percent Telemedicine

Angela Fitch is an obesity medicine physician. She’s also Associate Director at the Mass General Hospital Weight Center. She tells us that they are going to all virtual visits on Monday. The reason is simple: to minimize risks to patients. As a matter of fact, folks with obesity have an increased risk for respiratory infections.

Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine physician at MGH, sees this as an opportunity:

Telemedicine allows us to care for patients with chronic disease in the midst of a pandemic. It also gives us an opportunity to take better care of ourselves in our home setting. We can maximize diet quality, physical activity, and sleep quality and duration.

In addition, minimizing risk exposure for critical medical staff is no small thing. All over the country, hospitals are scrambling to make sure they can cope with an influx of patients. The pandemic can have a significant effect on staff. It will stretch them to the limits.

A Tool for Delivering More Care

Beyond the current situation, telemedicine has additional benefits for delivering obesity care. Joshua Brown and colleagues studied telemedicine as a tool for overcoming barriers to access. They delivered evidence-based care to 138 patients through telemedicine sessions with good results. Moreover, they found good patient acceptance. They concluded:

The use of innovative telemedicine interventions continues to be necessary to alleviate barriers to accessing evidence-based services to reduce chronic diseases and decrease obesity rates among rural populations.

Likewise in an RCT, Gary Bennett et al found better results with rural patients through telemedicine tools. In addition, Molly Conroy et al recently published a study of telemedicine tools for coaching to maintain a healthy weight. They used an EHR patient portal and found it delivered better outcomes.

So it really is time to get comfortable with telemedicine for obesity care. It may be the only way to reach some patients. But even more important, it has potential to deliver better outcomes.

Click here for the study by Brown et al, here for the Bennett study, and here for the Conroy study. For perspective on how the coronavirus pandemic may accelerate the move to telemedicine, click here.

At Home with Telemedicine, photograph © Angela Fitch

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March 15, 2020

2 Responses to “Telemedicine for Obesity: Get Used to It”

  1. March 15, 2020 at 3:43 pm, Angela Golden said:

    This is great that they are going to 100% telehealth BUT not all patients have coverage for telehealth. I have been using telehealth in my practice for years but only about 1/3 of the insurers pay for it so for those of us outside large academic centers our patients will pay the price unfortunately.

  2. March 15, 2020 at 8:45 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Check with Dr Valerie O’Hara at WOW clinic in Northern Maine. She has been delivering stage 3 pediatric obesity care for 4 years to two sites. She has a webinar on OMA if anyone is interested. Good results and great acceptance from the patients, families, and providers. It is the future!