Benefits of telehealth-delivered lifestyle programs

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Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, new research investigating the benefits of telehealth-delivered exercise and diet programs has found 80% of participants experienced improvement in knee pain and an average of 10% weight loss, with one participant reportedly shedding 39 kilograms.

More than 400 individuals with knee osteoarthritis participated in the ‘Better Knee, Better Me’ trial, developed by the University of Melbourne in partnership with Medibank and Austin Health.

As part of the study, researchers evaluated two six-month telehealth-delivered exercise programs, one with and one without a weight-loss dietary program, compared with an information-only control group.

During the trial, participants in the intervention groups were provided support from physiotherapists and dietitians via Zoom and a suite of resources.

Those in the exercise plus diet group also received meal replacements so they could undertake a ketogenic low energy diet.

Outcomes

Compared to the group that only received information, both intervention programs resulted in benefits for pain, function and quality of life.

Compared to the exercise-only program, the combined exercise and diet program led to additional benefits – including a greater reduction in pain, greater improvements in physical function, lower use of pain medications, and significant weight loss.

After both programs, participants were also less willing to undergo knee joint replacement surgery.

Lead researcher and Director of the Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine at the University of Melbourne Professor Kim Bennell, says participants lost on average 10.2 kilograms over a six-month period with four out of five participants achieving significant improvement in pain.

Professor Bennell adds that 30% of participants lived in regional and rural Australia.

“We are proud to have developed a program that has a strong regional and rural representation and is based on a trial which made a real difference in the lives of participants,” says Professor Bennell.

“Particularly during these times of pandemic-related travel restrictions, it is crucial Australians are able to access home-based treatments to manage their osteoarthritis symptoms, no matter where they live or what Covid restrictions are in place.”

‘I feel amazing’

Participant Matthew Boyd, from Toowoomba in Queensland, says his knee pain had become unbearable and was struggling to do the things he enjoyed, leading to a decline in physical activity and an increase in his weight.

“Since taking part in Better Knee, Better Me, I feel amazing. I have lost 16kg, which has decreased the weight load on my knees, and my pain.

“I no longer take any pain relief for my knee pain, which has meant I have been able to return to all the physical activities I wasn’t able to do over the past five years.

“The pain in my knees no longer dictates my daily routine and I am back moving in a way I haven’t done in years,” says Mr Boyd.

Prevalence of osteoarthritis

Around 2.1 million Australians are currently living with osteoarthritis. The prevalence of osteoarthritis is expected to increase by 58% by 2032 due to an ageing population and rising obesity rates.

Medibank Head of Member Health Service and Design Catherine Keating says Medibank wants to provide its customers with healthcare that gives them more choice and control in how they receive their care.

“It’s part of our focus on taking the lead on driving preventative health because we know our customers want personalised support to improve their health and wellbeing,” says Ms Keating.