Telehealth and Obesity TreatmentWeight and obesity are sensitive topics for people to discuss openly. Gaining weight is more than just an issue of overeating and exercising too little. Not only is the struggle with weight more complex than previously believed, but obesity can also lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain cancer types while reducing life quality and increasing preventable, premature death. Childhood obesity is also on the rise, starts earlier, and is more severe, despite many different types of treatment.

Today’s providers can now develop telehealth obesity treatment protocols using a well-established evidence base. Both telephone and video technology offer  discreet, personal conversations with patients about their weight, offer education, resources, support and treatment when needed. Telehealth providers can now also engage people with wearable mHealth obesity intervention devices and apps, which allow connections with patients between sessions, offering support for weight control, including exercise tips and diet, monitoring for addictive behaviors, and on-demand access to peer support. mHealth tools can assist the provider by keeping track of weight gain as well as the positive outcome of the diet and exercise.

A great number of studies have been published identifying key issues to note when selecting apps for patients. For example, Rivera and colleagues (2016) conducted a scoping review of relevant apps. Kompala and colleagues (2021) reported telehealth strategies to help with Type I Diabetes. Batis and colleagues (2021) published a report looking at the feasibility and acceptability of technology-based, rural weight management in old adults with obesity.

Healthcare providers are being encouraged to use telehealth and mHealth obesity apps aside from new medications and clinical measures such as surgery to improve care management. Virtual guidance is essential because patients can access it at any place where a little advice or support is needed. 

Telehealth Obesity Intervention Practice Guidelines

The national organization of healthcare providers called the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) is focused on treating and improving the lives of patients affected by obesity, and has also been working to include telehealth in its practice guidelines. OMA updated its OMA Obesity Algorithm in January 2021, called ADAPT, using telehealth for virtual and telephonic treatments that focus on assessment, diagnosis, advice/education, prognosis, and treatment options for obesity.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has allowed coverage for virtual services in their final policies for the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program (MDPP)  during the public health emergency caused by COVID-19. This Medicare coverage opened virtual channels for a population that shows high rates of obesity or at risk of developing obesity-related chronic diseases such as heart problems and type 2 diabetes. Reimbursement from Medicare also can play an essential part in virtual obesity treatment programs that target any number of conditions or populations.

As with many other aspects of healthcare, the COVID-19 crisis is giving providers more freedom to address the epidemic. It has allowed providers to create care management programs that address the obesity epidemic by funding obesity prevention and telehealth treatment options to deliver the care patients need in the privacy and comfort of home. Several other issues are addressed in mHealthIntelligence’s article, Healthcare Turns to Telehealth to Tackle America’s Obesity Epidemic.

Telehealth Obesity References

Batsis, J. A., Petersen, C. L., Clark, M. M., Cook, S. B., Kotz, D., Gooding, T. L., … & Mackenzie, T. A. (2021). Feasibility and acceptability of a technology-based, rural weight management intervention in older adults with obesity. BMC geriatrics21(1), 1-13.

Kompala, T., & Neinstein, A. B. (2021). Telehealth in type 1 diabetes. Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity28(1), 21-29.

mHealthIntelligence. Healthcare Turns to Telehealth to Tackle America’s Obesity Epidemic.

Rivera, J., McPherson, A., Hamilton, J., Birken, C., Coons, M., & Iyer, S. & Stinson J (2016). Mobile apps for weight management: A scoping review. JMIR mHealth and uHealth4, e87.