The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the healthcare system in a variety of ways. While healthcare has tended to be viewed as recession proof, we have watched entire hospitals close down as the demand for services has plummeted due to social distancing orders. Luckily, those in healthcare are finding ways to adapt to changing patient needs and expectations in the context of the pandemic. The observed benefits are likely to extend well beyond this outbreak.

Because there is a continued need for care despite the benefit of social distance, it is becoming easier than ever to get reimbursed for remote patient monitoring. We have been interested in whether the new incentives for telemedicine have translated to more use of the relevant tools for patient care – and if so, what challenges and benefits providers and patients have experienced.

To address these questions in an area of health that is conducive to remote care – weight management, we implemented a survey to providers who help patients with fat loss. Our results are described below.

The use of telemedicine for weight loss is on the rise 

Though only 20% of our survey participants used telemedicine before COVID-19, more than 87% of them have now implemented telemedicine programs into their practices. Of those who are now using telemedicine, more than 85% said that they will continue to see patients virtually once COVID-19 no longer necessitates it, and nearly 65% said they are actively looking for ways to enhance their telemedicine programs.

The platform for telemedicine is not that important to providers

While our respondents identified several software platforms that they use to implement their telemedicine programs, the most frequently used platform among our participants is Nearly 45% of our participants use this platform. Nearly as popular is Zoom. Roughly 41% of our participants reported using Zoom for their telemedicine appointments.

Providers view telemedicine as an important tool for patient access to healthcare 

More than 85% of our survey population pointed to improved patient access as the primary benefit of telemedicine, making this benefit the most frequently cited one. For this benefit to be the most important one during the COVID-19 pandemic is unsurprising, as social distancing has reduced access to healthcare and increased providers’ concerns about the safety of in-person care.

When asked what worried them most about resuming in-patient appointments, most respondents pointed to safety as their primary concern. Nearly 62% reported concerns over patient safety, and nearly 56% said that staff safety was the primary concern.

Telemedicine is also providing other key benefits, include efficiency of care

While patient access is particularly important during a pandemic when social distancing recommendations are in place, this benefit may not be as relevant once people can interact more freely. The relevance of other observed benefits, however – such as the efficiency afforded by telemedicine – will likely persist even when social distancing measures are no longer as urgent.

More than 70% of our participants reported that telemedicine was providing a more efficient use of time for providers and patients. Other telemedicine benefits that our respondents identified were enhanced provider-patient relationship (35.3%) and market improvement in insurance reimbursements for remote patient monitoring (23.5%). These latter benefits may also sustain beyond the pandemic and even grow as stakeholders learn how best to use telemedicine technologies to improve health outcomes.

COVID-19 has motivated us to overcome previous barriers to telemedicine uptake

Interestingly, though providers reported improved provider-patient relationship benefits of telemedicine, they also voiced concern over the likelihood of reduced patient engagement with the use of telemedicine. Half of all those surveyed said that patient engagement was a major challenge while implementing telemedicine.

The biggest obstacle according to those surveyed, though, has been onboarding new patients.

More than 60% of our respondents said that onboarding new patients was a top challenge for them with respect to telemedicine. Given that the pandemic created a context in which it was worth the time and effort for many practices to overcome this significant hurdle, these practices are now well-positioned to continue to reap the benefits of telemedicine programs and to adapt their practices to make them more efficient and better for providers and patients alike.

Patients are using tools for weight management

For telemedicine programs to work, buy-in from providers is not enough. Patients also have to be willing and able to participate. Our results showed that patients have indeed been using several weight management tools in a telemedicine capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 90% of our survey participants reported that their patients are using food logs remotely. Nearly 56% reported the same to be true for activity trackers, whereas 44% said their patients were using their digital scale tool. More than 40% reported that patients were using pre-packaged meals or supplements, and the same proportion of respondents said patients were using whole food meal plans. Just under 30% of our study participants said that their patients were using additional telemedicine tools through their practice.

How can providers continue to evolve their telemedicine programs to improve their practices?

Unlike the surgical procedures in medicine, including in bariatrics, much of weight management medicine is highly conducive to telemedicine, which may help explain why more than half of those we surveyed reported having converted from in-person appointments to telemedicine. Now that benefits other than those that are directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic are being realized as more and more practices have dedicated the necessary resources to get their telemedicine infrastructure in place, it is important that providers continue to consider how they can best evolve their programs and leverage the best technologies to meet both their needs and the needs of their patients. Choosing devices and platforms, for instance, that are conducive to remote use may help practices easily transition to a post-COVID-19 era where telemedicine is a more integral part of healthcare and something that patients expect to be able to access.

LEVL is adapting to evolving telemedicine needs

The LEVL device and platform have always been able to facilitate remote weight management through the use of a HIPAA-compliant dashboard and an integration with CoachCare to track fat metabolism measurements alongside other relevant data, such as weight and information from food logs. Now, we are encouraging the use of technology-enabled daily measurements so that patients and doctors can work together continuously at a distance.

While 26% of our respondents pointed to billing and insurance challenges associated with implementing telemedicine, our programs provide a seamless way to get reimbursed while you increase patient engagement, view daily changes in patient fat metabolism, and confirm diet adherence. We are committed to helping you continue to provide personalized weight loss plans, whether in person or remotely.