JMIR Form Res. 2023 Jan 5;7:e40062. doi: 10.2196/40062.
BACKGROUND: Despite the increasing prevalence of obesity, the use of pharmacotherapy treatment remains low. Telehealth platforms have the potential to facilitate access to pharmacotherapy interventions, but little is known about telehealth patients.
OBJECTIVE: This study describes a large patient population taking Plenity, an oral superabsorbent hydrogel (OSH) used in the treatment of excess weight or obesity (BMI 25-40 kg/m2). The analysis compared differences in weight loss practices and in-person access to obesity care among telehealth patients with preobesity and obesity.
METHODS: This was a cross-sectional assessment of a random sample of 20,000 telehealth patients who completed a structured, web-based visit and received at least one prescription of OSH. Patients were eligible to receive care via telehealth if they were adults, were not pregnant, and had a BMI ≥25 kg/m2. During the visit, patients provided baseline health information including comorbidities, diet, and exercise habits. Their zip code of residence was used to determine their proximity to an obesity medicine provider. Descriptive statistical analysis and tests of differences (chi-square and 2-tailed t tests) were used to compare patients with preobesity (BMI 25-29.9 kg/m2) and obesity (BMI 30-40 kg/m2).
RESULTS: Most (15,576/20,000, 77.88%) of the cohort were female, with a mean age of 44 (SD 11) years and a mean BMI of 32.4 (SD 4.1) kg/m2. Among the cohort, 32.13% (6426/20,000) had preobesity, and 40.18% (8036/20,000) of all patients had ≥1 weight-related comorbidity. Almost all (19,732/20,000, 98.66%) patients attempted 1 weight loss method before OSH and half (10,067/20,000, 50.34%) tried ≥4 different methods. Exercise and low-calorie diets were the most attempted weight loss methods, and 28.76% (5752/20,000) of patients reported a prior prescription of weight loss medication. Patients with obesity were more likely than patients with preobesity to have previously tried commercial weight loss plans (7294/13,574, 53.74% vs 2791/6426, 43.43%; P<.001), specialized diets (8493/13,574, 62.57% vs 3799/6426, 59.12%; P<.001), over-the-counter supplements (6807/13,574, 50.15% vs 2876/6426, 44.76%; P<.001), and prescription weight loss medications (4407/13,574, 32.47% vs 1345/6426, 20.93%; P<.001). Females were more likely to seek treatment for preobesity (5332/15,576, 34.23% vs 1094/4424, 24.73% male; P<.001) and reported fewer comorbidities (5992/15,576, 38.47% vs 2044/4424, 46.2% male; P<.001), despite >90% of both sexes reporting the belief that excess weight negatively affected their health (14,247/15,576, 91.47% female participants, 4116/4424, 93.04% male participants). Moreover, 29.25% (5850/20,000) of patients lived in the same zip code and 85.15% (17,030/20,000) lived in the same county as an obesity medicine provider.
CONCLUSIONS: Data from this large patient cohort supports the potential for telehealth to provide prescriptive weight management treatment to a population seeking care. Patients with preobesity are an undertreated population who actively seek new weight management options. Female participants sought weight management treatment earlier in the disease continuum than males, despite reporting fewer comorbidities.