OW2021: COVID, Telehealth, and Obesity Care

Phone Box IIt’s unmistakable. COVID is influencing everything at ObesityWeek® once again this year. To start with, we’re doing this on our glowing rectangles, cut off from the stresses and joys of a live meeting. But even more important is the fact that COVID is influencing obesity and obesity care – interacting with the disease and helping us adopt telehealth for delivering care.

Telehealth for obesity care in the pandemic is a necessity. However, we are learning this week that it is bringing some benefits.

Better Access to Care

Poor access to care is a fact of life in obesity care. Many reasons account for this. But one is that we have too few providers concentrated in a geography that is too small. Health policy makers have been talking big for decades about the serious health problem that obesity is. But actually funding the resources at scale to address the challenge – for both treatment and prevention – has not been their priority.

So providers who are serious about obesity care have figured out that telehealth is essential. It helps them extend their reach with limited resources.

Valerie O’Hara is a pediatric obesity specialist. She and her team serve children and families in a rural state with a high burden of obesity. They have extensive experience reaching underserved rural communities through telehealth. In fact, it started well before the pandemic. She tells us that telehealth in obesity care is here to stay:

“Some states are proactively working toward sustaining at least some of the current policy
expansions to better leverage telehealth technology as a means to improve access and outcomes. Many patients and families receiving obesity care appreciate the flexibility and access provided by
telemedicine, particularly in their home, creating new expectations for telemedicine’s on-going
use as a standard of care.

“So it is unlikely telemedicine practice will return to the previous status quo.”

Similar Outcomes

Yesterday, Peter Katzmarzyk presented data from the PROPEL and REPOWER studies. He compared outcomes with telehealth and direct contact. His data shows no differences. In other research at the meeting, Chenel Morrison and colleagues found no differences outcomes for 245 patients with visits in person, by video, or a combination of the two.

So it is hard to argue against a role for telehealth. Outcomes are good. Access to care can be quite a bit better.

Fighting Inertia

The only obvious problem is inertia. Providers likely would not have adopted telehealth for obesity care if not for COVID. Some will want to go back to older ways of working.

But looking forward, we suspect that patient preferences and efficiency will rule the day. Right now, Gelesis is rolling out a new product for obesity (Plenity) and relying on a very efficient telehealth model to reach more patients. Others, like Virta Health, are implementing their own approaches to telehealth.

It could get crowded. We hope it does. Because up until recently, serious obesity care has been a lonely space.

Plan to join the symposium on telehealth models for obesity care and research this afternoon at 3:00 (East). For more on telehealth in obesity care, click here and here.

Phone Box I, painting by Gosta Adrian-Nilsson / WikiArt

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November 3, 2021

2 Responses to “OW2021: COVID, Telehealth, and Obesity Care”

  1. November 03, 2021 at 7:48 am, Allen Browne said:

    Go Valerie! Knowledgeable, experienced, and committed to helping children with obesity and their families.

    Go telemedicine! It works and it makes sense.

    Thanks, Ted.


    • November 03, 2021 at 9:10 am, Ted said:

      You guys are rocking it up there in Maine. Now if some nice college or university up there would only hire a newly minted PhD in psychology…we’d be set.