North Carolina AHEC Program
spring 2011 newsletter | home

Telemedicine Obesity Treatment Program Presented at Emerging Issues Forum

Northwest AHEC and the Department of Pediatrics at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (WFUBMC) presented at the 26th Annual Emerging Issues Forum, February 7-8, at the Raleigh Convention Center. Christopher Jones, MHA, Northwest AHEC, and Joseph Skelton, MD, WFUBMC Pediatrics, were invited to speak and further interact with attendees about their project, a telemedicine obesity treatment program for use in rural populations outside of Forsyth County. This year’s forum focus was “An Idea Exchange for Healthcare.”

Jones, Northwest AHEC assistant director, Regional Extension Center and Information Systems, was joined by Katie Boles, RD, LDN, clinical dietitian from the Brenner Families In Training (FIT) Program of Brenner Children's Hospital of WFUBMC to deliver a workshop at the Forum. The session was entitled Expanding Access with Telemedicine and featured three telemedicine projects, one each from WFUBMC, the Center for Rural Health Innovations, and the NC School Community Health Alliance.

During the first half of the two-hour session, the various speakers presented information about two projects which utilized technology to expand access. During the second half of the session, Jones and Boles presented the Pediatric Telemedicine Obesity Treatment (TOT) Pilot Project. TOT placed video conference equipment in three remote clinics and a hub site at Brenner Children’s Hospital. In partnership with the Child Health Center of Hickory and Mountain View Pediatrics in Morganton (Burke County), children and families referred for treatment to Brenner FIT received their follow up care by telemonitor. This allowed dieticians to extend the reach of expert obesity treatment into areas which previously lacked this specialized service.

The Brenner FIT Program, a multidisciplinary, family-centered pediatric weight management clinic for obese children and their families, covers a 19-county area of northwest North Carolina. This includes an estimated 500,000 children, and, by a conservative estimate, 75,000 obese children. Treatment of pediatric obesity is intensive which requires frequent behavioral counseling, and in the case of Brenner FIT, visits to the program take place approximately 16-18 times over a period of a year. This can be difficult for families juggling jobs, school and having to travel 60+ miles several times a month. The average distance traveled by families in Brenner FIT is 26 miles. To date, 18 families from the Hickory (Catawba County) and Burke County areas have participated in the project compared to only three from this area prior to using the technology.

After the presentations, the participants broke into small groups and discussed pertinent issues such as reimbursement problems, connectivity challenges, and cost barriers. Each group then submitted a brief report of their discussions/findings to the Institute for Emerging Issues for further discussion.