It’s no secret that Americans have a weight problem. More than 40% of the population has obesity, with up to 9% who have severe obesity—some likely your patients. But could weight loss prescriptions via telehealth help?
Many will try anything to lose weight, including prescriptions for semaglutide medications such as Ozempic or Wegovy. But it’s no secret that these and other FDA-approved drugs are gaining popularity for their effectiveness in weight loss. As a result, the market is expected to grow to more than $100B in the next decade—in part because prescriptions are available through a telemedicine provider.
For consumers who are obese and eager to lose weight faster than a healthy diet and exercise program, weight loss medications may be alternative to more invasive options such as bariatric surgery. In fact, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, 25% of bariatric patients receive a denial from their insurance carrier three times before getting approved.
Demand for Telehealth Prescriptions After the Pandemic
Statistics show demand for these drugs is at an all-time high, and so too is the demand to have them prescribed through telehealth.
While conducting research for Doxy.me, we found the number of patients who want primary care provider (PCP) to offer telehealth more than doubled between 2017 and 2022. The pandemic drove much of this demand, but usage has remained high.
So, with telehealth making it easier for more PCPs to offer weight loss treatment options to their patients, this has sparked a debate on whether weight loss medications are a safe, effective solution—and if prescribing via telemedicine is appropriate.
How Telehealth Improves Weight Loss Programs
According to research in our book, Telehealth Success: How to Thrive in the New Age of Remote Care, we believe telehealth is an appropriate option. Here are potential areas where telehealth can improve the patient experience and drive outcomes.
- Accessibility and Convenience: Telehealth bridges the gap for patients in those unable to attend in-person appointments, fostering better adherence to treatment plans and lifestyle modifications.
- Patient Engagement: Increased contact through telehealth is associated with greater weight loss, as patients can engage more regularly with their care teams.
- Multidisciplinary Care: Telehealth facilitates collaboration among dietitians, mental health professionals, and other experts.
- Cost-Effectiveness: Telemedicine reduces direct patient costs by eliminating the need for travel. Additionally, insurance parity regulations often cover telehealth visits, further alleviating financial burdens.
- Privacy: Telehealth mitigates the discomfort associated with in-person visits for some individuals, offering judgment-free environments.
- Communication: Synchronous and asynchronous communication, from video calls to emails, cater to patient preferences and remove care barriers.
- Integrated Tools: Virtual platforms can seamlessly incorporate documentation and tracking, enhancing the ability to monitor and improve patient adherence and outcomes.
These are just some suggestions to safely and effectively administer a telemedicine weight loss program. But while there may be a debate in the healthcare community over weight loss prescriptions, there is no question that telemedicine has the potential to create better patient outcomes.