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Dietician Digest: Nutrition and Health Counseling During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Our world is in a very unique situation right now with the coronavirus pandemic. Spending this time at home has given us pause to focus on our health and think about ways to improve any nagging health concerns or weight issues. Telehealth, or telemedicine, provides two-way communication technology for certain healthcare services, including nutrition counseling and wellness visits. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed several practices to transition completely to using this innovative technology. Several healthcare modalities allow providers and patients to connect by using telemedicine to deliver healthcare services using the following methods:

  • Synchronous: Includes real-time telephone or live audio-video interaction, typically with a patient using a smartphone, tablet, or computer. 

  • Asynchronous: Includes “store and forward” technology where messages, images, or data are collected at one point in time and interpreted and responded to later. Patient portals can facilitate this type of communication between provider and patient through secure messaging.

  • Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM): This allows direct transmission of a patient’s clinical measurements from a distance (may or may not be in real-time) to their healthcare provider.

The use of telehealth counseling surged from 8% of Americans utilizing this service in December 2019 to 29% in May 2020 out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, for instance, paid for about 200 televisits a day before the pandemic, but the volume has increased to 40,000 a day in recent months. MetaPhy Health has provided-one-on-one telehealth counseling since its inception, which put the company well ahead of the curve.

New research suggests that telehealth counseling after weight loss may be just the support that people, especially in rural areas, need to maintain their weight loss long-term. Data in one study found that at the 12-month mark, people who had individual telephone counseling had maintained an average of 100% of their weight loss. Another study revealed that over the course of 18 months, patients receiving one-on-one phone counseling had the most success in maintaining weight loss once support ended, regaining an average of only 5 pounds. Those patients in group counseling regained just over 6 pounds on average, and the email group regained an average of 9 pounds. Experts believe a major part of the success in individual telephone counseling is that it holds the patient accountable and keeps them more engaged in obesity and condition management behavior, including physical activity and self-monitoring what they eat. 

Many think that the telehealth trend is now here to stay. This shift could be beneficial for several populations that previously struggled to make it to a healthcare professional’s office for an in-person visit. With the increase in telehealth utilization, we may begin to see decreases in certain healthcare issues that have plagued America, such as obesity and diabetes. If these trends continue, telehealth may prove to be the unexpected silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christi Bowling is the Director of Nutrition Services for MetaPhy Health. Every quarter she provides her unique perspective and valuable expertise on all things diet and nutrition relative to chronic disease management.