The Phased Implementation of a National Telehealth Weight Management Program for Veterans: Mixed-Methods Program Evaluation

JMIR Diabetes. 2018 Oct 9;3(3):e14. doi: 10.2196/diabetes.9867.


Background: The burden of obesity is high among US veterans, yet many face barriers to engaging in in-person, facility-based treatment programs. To improve access to weight-management services, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) developed TeleMOVE, a home-based, 82-day curriculum that utilizes in-home messaging devices to promote weight loss in VHA patients facing barriers to accessing facility-based services.

Objective: The primary aim was to establish preliminary evidence for the program by comparing outcomes for TeleMOVE with standard, facility-based MOVE weight-management services (group, individual modalities) over the evaluation period based on the number of patients enrolled per site and the program's clinical effectiveness, as demonstrated by average weight lost per patient. The secondary aim was to understand factors influencing TeleMOVE implementation variability across demonstration sites to develop recommendations to improve national program dissemination.

Methods: We employed a formative mixed-methods design to evaluate the phased implementation of TeleMOVE at 9 demonstration sites and compare patient- and site-level measures of program uptake. Data were collected between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2011. Patient-level program outcomes were extracted from VHA patient care databases to evaluate program enrollment rates and clinical outcomes. To assess preliminary clinical effectiveness, weight loss outcomes for veterans who enrolled in TeleMOVE were compared with outcomes for veterans enrolled in standard MOVE! at each demonstration site, as well as with national averages during the first 2 years of program implementation. For the secondary aim, we invited program stakeholders to participate in 2 rounds of semistructured interviews about aspects of TeleMOVE implementation processes, site-level contextual factors, and program delivery. Twenty-eight stakeholders participated in audio-recorded interviews.

Results: Although stakeholders at 3 sites declined to be interviewed, objective program uptake was high at 2 sites, delayed-high at 2 sites, and low at 5 sites. At 6 months post enrollment, the mean weight loss was comparable for TeleMOVE (n=417) and MOVE! (n=1543) participants at -5.2 lb (SD 14.4) and -5.1 lb (SD 12.2), respectively (P=.91). All sites reported high program complexity because TeleMOVE required more staff time per participant than MOVE! due to logistical and technical assistance issues related to the devices. High-uptake sites overcame implementation challenges by leveraging communication networks with stakeholders, adapting the program to patient needs whenever possible, setting programmatic goals and monitoring feedback of results, and taking time to reflect and evaluate on delivery to foster incremental delivery improvements, whereas low-uptake sites reported less leadership support and effective communication among stakeholders.

Conclusions: This implementation evaluation of a clinical telehealth program demonstrated the value of partnership-based research in which researchers not only provided operational leaders with feedback regarding the effectiveness of a new program but also relevant feedback into contextual factors related to program implementation to enable adaptations for national deployment efforts.

Keywords: adoption; obesity; qualitative research; self-management; telemedicine; veterans health.