Telehealth a Viable Tool to Combat the Obesity Epidemic


The electronic medical record (EMR) contains a ton of information – the patient’s medical history, diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, immunization dates, allergies, results of lab tests, and radiology images. Outsourcing medical transcription helps providers ensure up-to-date information in the EMR. Today, integration of the EMR with a practice’s telehealth platform enables complete and effective care delivery, while also streamlining provider workflows. Telehealth is a useful tool to treat various medical conditions – from flu and hypertension to heart disease, skin disorders, mental health issues, and so on. Telehealth is now proving a viable tool to combat the obesity epidemic in the U.S., especially in the context of COVID-19.

Obesity is one of the most serious health concerns in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 42.4% of the adult population was obese in 2017~2018, and that the prevalence of the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2% during that period. A result of lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet, obesity is often responsible for serious health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and certain types of cancer. Billions of dollars are spent every year treating obesity and obesity-related conditions.

Telemedicine an effective option for obesity treatment, say studies

A study published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare in 2018 reported that combining video coaching and self-monitoring through mHealth devices led to “significant” reductions in weight and body mass.

In the study conducted by researchers at California State University at Long Beach, the University of Saint Mary, UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and InHealth Medical Services, participants were enrolled in a 12-week program that made use of various apps and wireless devices. A registered dietitian conducted weekly health coaching sessions on a one-on-one basis and education materials sent to the participant every week. The study found that, over a 12-week period, the group with access to telehealth coaching sessions lost an average of 16 pounds, while the control group lost only an average of 3 pounds.

The researchers concluded that weekly video conferencing with a health coach and educational modules are an effective way to treat obesity by reducing body weight and increasing physical activity.

Telehealth platforms are also ideal to manage diabetes. According to the recent mHealth Intelligence report, providers and payers are integrating telehealth into diabetes prevention programs to help patients manage their weight and cut risk of developing diabetes.

The report also references Louis Aronne, MD, medical director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Studies who notes that studies have shown that one-third of people in telehealth-led obesity treatment programs have lost at least 5 percent of their body weight. Over time, this can improve health and also lead to significant reduction in healthcare costs.

How Telehealth helps in Obesity Management

  • Facilitates Expert Intervention: Fitness apps, exercise regimens and diet plans are available, but in many cases, these fail to work without expert intervention. With a telehealth platform, people have real-time access to an expert health coach. The expert can review real-time data from the patient’s mHealth devices and provide information, guidance and encouragement
  • Holistic Solution: platform offers an ideal opportunity to blend behavioral and clinical care, two critical elements of obesity treatment. Online coaching and wireless devices coupled with motivational strategies can be used to provide medication adjustments, exercise and counseling services and help patients lose weight and improve clinical outcomes.
  • Convenient Way to Connect: Both patient and provider have the opportunity to connect conveniently on the telehealth platform. Patients can connect with their provider on a daily or weekly basis, and discuss both motivations and care management.
  • Access to Different Types of Specialists: Use of video and telephone-based technologies provides patients with real-time access to a team of health experts such as physicians, nutritionists, fitness coaches, psychologists, and others. Telehealth builds an ongoing relationship between experts and the patient.
  • Allows for Effective Patient Management: Providers can monitor and assess progress, provide accurate feedback, and tailor programs based on the data that is transmitted via the telehealth platform and connected devices such as fitness trackers and BP cuffs.
  • Makes it Easier for Patients to Discuss a Sensitive Topic: People are sensitive about their weight issue and hesitant to discuss it or being advised to lose weight. Telehealth makes it easy for providers and patients to have discreet, personal conversations about this sensitive topic.
  • Personalized Solutions: Combining telehealth and mHealth apps can improve care management and allow for more personalized interventions. These tools allow providers to provide coaching and guidance on diet, exercise, and behavioral health and tailor a program to meet a patient’s specific needs.
  • Ensures Regular Follow-up: One of the excuses people make for not enrolling in weight management programs is lack of time for regular follow-ups. Telehealth provides the solution. Follow-up through video-based meetings between experts and patients make sessions convenient and comfortable for both parties, eliminating problems posed by time and distance.

Telehealth has soared during the pandemic. Telehealth is an extremely effective option when in-person care is not a necessity, such as in weight management, saves time, and reduces risk of exposure to infection for patients and providers alike. Medical transcription services play a key role in helping providers ensure quality documentation of virtual visits in the EHR. In January 2021, the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) updated its OMA Obesity Algorithm to include practice guidelines for using telehealth.