Childhood obesity is a growing problem in America, and it'll only continue getting worse if young people don't receive medical treatment and counseling. Statistics show that kids that come from low-income families are less likely be obese. The logistics of traveling to numerous appointments, even if they're just on the other side of Los Angeles, is a huge barrier to kids receiving care.
The UniHealth Foundation liked a proposal that UCLA researchers came up with to overcome this barrier. The researchers set up a pilot program for obese children using telehealth technology, which is a secure system that lets patients see and speak with their health care providers at UCLA over a computer from their local health clinic. To get the pilot program off the ground, UniHealth awarded a $299,714 grant to UCLA Health System for a Telehealth Educational Model for Providing State-of-the-Art Pediatric Palliative Care Consultation. (Read UniHealth Foundation: Los Angeles Grants).
Forty-five obese patients around the age of ten were selected to take part in the pilot program. Child patients and their parents went to their local health clinics and had virtual appointments with pediatricians, psychologists, and dietitians at UCLA's Fit for Healthy Weight Clinic. These professionals reviewed the patients' files, asked questions about lifestyle, answered questions, and helped families set healthy goals.
The results of the study were overwhelmingly positive. In fact, around 80 percent of pediatrics patients were satisfied with their telehealth appointments, reporting that they felt comfortable with the system, that their privacy was protected, and that it was just as good as seeing the doctor in person. Better yet, these pediatric patients could simply go to their local clinic for the appointment rather than arranging transportation to the UCLA campus in Westwood. About 80 percent of participants also said they'd use the service again if it were available. Healthcare providers were just as positive about the program.
"One surprise was how natural it was to talk with each other through the telehealth system, even though we never met the patients in person," said lead author Dr. Wendy Slusser, medical director of the Fit for Healthy Weight program at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and director of pediatric wellness programs at the Venice Family Clinic. "The interaction was very much like being in the same room together. Some kids even thought it was fun to see themselves on the screen."
Because of this success, the program is moving onto phase two: enabling patients to have telehealth appointments with doctors from their home, without even having to travel to the local clinic. Are innovative programs like this the key to getting patients the care they need and combating the obesity epidemic? UniHealth thinks so. The old methods of “fighting fat” aren't working, so it's time to put technology to work for our children.