Telemedicine is the latest tool being used in the fight to combat obesity. In the United States alone, more than one third of adults and 17 percent of children are clinically obese. The obesity crisis, as many doctors have called it, has been steadily getting worse. In 1999, 30.5 percent of adults and 13.9 percent of children were clinically obese. In the last twenty years, those numbers have risen to over 1/3 of adults and 17 percent of children as being clinically obese. With 78 million adults and 12 million children today suffering the effects of obesity, doctors are turning to weight loss telemedicine as a potential solution to step the rising tide of obesity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Telemedicine for Weight Loss Studies Show Positive Results
In a study using telemedicine for weight loss, participants underwent a 12 week study where they used the app and website for MyFitnessPal to track their food intake and exercise and wireless weight loss monitoring devices. Participants where also provided with weekly educational materials. Some participants were given weekly on-on-one coaching telemedicine sessions with a registered dietitian.
According to the study, participants who were given weekly telehealth for weight loss sessions lost an average of 16 pounds. The control group only lost 3 pounds on average. Those who received telemedicine sessions also lost almost 20% of their body fat. The control group only lost about 3%.
Telemedicine Reduces Healthcare Costs, Provides Access to Otherwise Limited Care
Telemedicine was once reserved for outreach to patients that lived large distances from healthcare facilities or where there were a shortage of trained healthcare professionals. Neurologists and psychiatrists in particular are in short supply especially in rural areas. Telemedicine has proven to be cost effective and effective in providing positive patient outcomes including reducing wait time to see a doctor. Patients can connect with a specialist who may be located in another part of the country, or even the world, and be treated quickly if they are suffering a stroke or psychiatric emergency.
Rising costs in healthcare and limited medical access for vulnerable populations, along with a nationwide shortage of trained doctors and specialists, has caused a boom in telemedicine. Current trends show that use of telehealth services has sharply increased from just 35,000 telehealth patients in 2013 to over 7 million in 2018.
The Future of Telemedicine in Obesity Treatment
Research shows that obesity related medical costs are rising along with the number of people affected by obesity. Healthcare spending on obesity was just over 6 percent in 2001 and increased to over 8 percent by 2015, which is in a increase of 29 percent. That number shows no signs of slowing down and more people are diagnosed with Obesity related diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, joint pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and chronic back pain.
Patients are looking for easily accessible healthcare treatment that saves them money. Hospitals and insurance companies are looking for ways to reduce costs across the board. Patient demand for personalized medical care apps such as those that utilize weight loss software continues to rise along with the expenses of treating obesity. A 2017 survey showed that 64 percent of patients use a mobile app to manage their health, including managing appointments and communication with their doctor. Patient use of apps to manage their healthcare, along with a continued embrace of telemedicine by patents and medical professionals alike, will lead to greater patient outcome for weight loss interventions in the future.