How Much Will Telemedicine Help in Obesity Care?

TelephoneDuring the pandemic, telemedicine visits grew from 0.15 percent of all visits to 13 percent. That’s a big increase – almost 100-fold – from a very small base. But the real question is will this new habit stick? As with many ways we adapted, telemedicine has some advantages. Especially in obesity care, telemedicine seems to have some advantages. How much will it help us on the other side of this pandemic?

A Plus for Access to Care

Without a doubt, telemedicine is a positive for access to obesity care. In a recent position paper from EASO, the authors explain that this has global implications:

“Telemedicine uses ICTs (information and communication technologies) to overcome geographical barriers and increase access to health care services. This is particularly beneficial for rural and underserved communities or in low- and middle-income countries that may already have scarce health care resources.”

Especially in pediatric obesity care, telemedicine can greatly extend the reach of programs meeting a vital need.

Not a Replacement for Personal Contact

Writing in the New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal offers caution to temper the present enthusiasm about telemedicine:

“Covid-19 let virtual medicine out of the bottle. Now it’s time to tame it. If we don’t, there is a danger that it will stealthily become a mainstay of our medical care. Deploying it too widely or too quickly risks poorer care, inequities and even more outrageous charges in a system already infamous for big bills.

“The pandemic has demonstrated that virtual medicine is great for many simple visits. But many of the new types of telemedicine being promoted by start-ups more clearly benefit providers’ and investors’ pockets, rather than yielding more convenient, high-quality and cost-effective medicine for patients.”

The Perfect and the Good

Voltaire gets credit for caution against allowing the perfect to be an enemy of the good. In reality, though, this is wisdom for the ages across many cultures. So naturally, it applies here.

Personal contact with skilled providers in a multi-disciplinary obesity care team can indeed mean a lot for overcoming obesity. But the reality is that very few people have access to this. Payment systems are largely to blame because health plans would prefer to defer the expense of obesity care if they can get by with it. In addition, and as a result, resources to deliver a lot of in-person obesity care are simply unavailable.

So telemedicine is a critical tool for opening up access to obesity care. Telemedicine came out in the pandemic. Let’s put it to work.

Click here for Rosenthal’s essay. For more on telemedicine and obesity care, click here and here.

Telephone, painting by Morton Schamberg / WikiArt

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May 1, 2021

One Response to “How Much Will Telemedicine Help in Obesity Care?”

  1. May 04, 2021 at 7:21 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Refining care plans, monitoring, timely support, coaching through challenges of a food dominated, lots-of-sitting world we lived are all necessary in successful management of the chronic disease of obesity. Telemedicine provides such a fantastic opportunity to deliver so much of what was(is) missing for improved care! Combined with an initial couple in-person assessments and care plan, telemedicine could make a difference. But, documentation and data would help a lot to gather evidence of that delta. I hope someone is doing that.