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Telemedicine can help overcome barriers in access to obesity care

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Telemedicine may help in reducing barriers to obesity care and health

A new paper revealed that telemedicine offers new opportunities to reduce barriers in obesity care which are faced by healthcare providers, patients and health plans.

The paper, which was published in the journal Obesity, highlighted that 80 per cent of US adults will be pre-obese or obese by 2030. Despite the growing health risk, the researchers stressed that there are still many challenges for patients when it comes to losing or maintaining weight.

This includes difficulty in using guideline supported treatments such as pharmacotherapy, intensive behavioural therapy and bariatric surgery. The authors report these treatments are often underused.

According to the paper, some of the notable barriers to accessing treatments include limited specialised care, high costs, reduced availability of obesity medication and weight management specialists. There is also limited insurance coverage.

Poor access to healthcare providers who have training in obesity medicine and interdisciplinary treatment team can create a significant barrier to care. Geographic barriers are also a problem as rural areas may struggle to attend appointments. Sometimes access may be further limited by a perceived shortage of time and low priority given to obesity treatment by doctors in primary care office visits.

Telemedicine rise

The pandemic has already highlighted the effectiveness of telemedicine services especially in overcoming barriers such as the ones listed in the report. The authors stressed that there are multiple opportunities for telemedicine to address these barriers and further improve obesity treatment.

A trial included in the paper confirmed that obese patients that were socioeconomically disadvantaged and at risk for cardiovascular disease demonstrated greater weight loss when using an app and clinical counselling.

Scott Kahan, MD, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness said: “Healthcare providers and policymakers increasingly recognize the potential of telemedicine and remote healthcare. The use of telemedicine for the management of chronic diseases, including obesity, is vital to support access to high-quality healthcare, especially for persons with limited mobility, those who are under or uninsured and those living in geographical areas with limited healthcare options.”

Telemedicine challenges

However, telemedicine is not without its challenges.

It does mean the need for more staff and increased training in order to implement remote healthcare. It also means the health service providers need to see licenses for secure video conferencing software. Other access issues include reliable internet connections and concerns over insurance.

The report outlined that future research needs to focus on patient engagement, retention and evaluation of patient phenotypes that may improve long term outcomes.

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