The use of handheld and computer-based technology has revolutionized many aspects of the clinical practice of medicine as well as patients’ experience of health care. The pace of development of this technology is extremely rapid, and busy clinicians often struggle with important questions about these innovations. How do I find and afford the best new devices and technologies? What are the best practices and rules for interacting with patients using these technologies? Are there security issues to consider? Will my patients like them or benefit from them? Despite these questions and concerns, there is evidence that clinicians and patients are adopting these technologies rapidly.1 The adoption of electronic health records, for example, was progressing slowly until 2011, when use began doubling for hospitals and clinician offices, due largely to incentives and legislation.2
Patients use Internet sources for medical information, especially about nutrition and weight management, at a high rate and often do not discuss this use with their clinicians.3,4 While increased use of computers and devices is thought to be associated with the sedentary activity that promotes obesity, both patients and clinicians are embracing the use of these methods.5 The proliferation of smartphones, with their always-on connection to the Internet, large data storage capacity, and camera and video capabilities, gives clinicians and patients enormous potential for using computing in daily clinical practice.
Clinicians have been grappling with the management of obesity for years, and obesity complicates many aspects of care for women, such as contraception, fertility, pregnancy, mental health, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.6,7 In addition to commonly holding negative attitudes toward obese patients, clinicians have lacked the appropriate tools and resources for referral to their patients for education, motivation, and support in achieving their weight management goals.8,9,10 The advent of these electronic tools—from industry, from entrepreneurs, and as part of national guideline efforts—has opened a new realm of possibility for clinicians to educate themselves and their patients about obesity, to help motivate these patients for change, and to support them in their journey.
We begin this chapter by discussing the categories and uses of electronic tools to manage obesity. In general, we focus on the issue of obesity in women’s health, but use more general sources when more specific data or recommendations were not available. Given the pace of change in this field, we do not attempt to create a list of the current or popular applications and sites but may use occasional specific examples. We discuss tools used by both patients and clinicians and make note of the theoretical basis of these technologies, where applicable. We then review the current “snapshot” of the evidence behind the use of these electronic tools to manage obesity to give the reader a sense of the empirical research behind their use. We discuss the use of electronic tools for obesity in ...