Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a chronic condition that affects 1 in 10 women between the ages of 11 and 44. PCOS causes a range of hormonal imbalances and metabolism issues. It’s also the most common cause of infertility among women of childbearing age.
Typical symptoms include irregular menstrual cycles, excess hair (also known as hirsutism), acne, thinning hair, weight gain, darkening skin, and skin tags. Additionally, some of the symptoms can have a variety of potential causes. So, up to 70% of cases remain undiagnosed.
Aside from the difficulty of reaching a diagnosis, there are other factors affecting patients’ and physicians’ abilities to manage PCOS. One study found that the challenges often stem from the disparate and wide spectrum of presentations, issues with current treatment options, and the long-term nature of management. Also, researchers discovered that the internet is rife with misinformation regarding PCOS and alternative treatments for it
How to fill these gaps?
The same study concluded that clarifying and addressing patient expectations, providing personalized counseling and information, and using a multidisciplinary approach may facilitate refined patient care. A 2022 article on an investigation by Canadian researchers on what can be done to improve PCOS healthcare outlined that primary care providers need to be well-versed in how to diagnose and manage PCOS to prevent delays in diagnosis and provide easier access to care.
Telehealth has been integral in providing timely and accessible healthcare for remote and underserved communities. In the United States, a federal initiative called the Rural Health Care Telecommunications Program was launched in 2023. The goal of the program was to reinforce the quality of medical care in disadvantaged areas by increasing access to advanced telecommunications and broadband services while minimizing costs for eligible healthcare providers. By utilizing an identical framework, telehealth has thus emerged as a viable avenue for supporting the management of PCOS.
How telehealth is being used to support PCOS management
Below are two case studies that showcase how telehealth can be practical and effective for delivering appropriate and accessible medical care to women with PCOS.
A common struggle among women with PCOS is weight gain. The intersection of PCOS and overweight or obesity poses a different set of problems. As such, health and fitness platform WeightWatchers has leveraged telehealth in partnership with subscription service Sequence to meet the needs of individuals with PCOS who are also seeking to lose weight. Through their platform, women are simultaneously able to book a virtual consultation with a board-certified clinician, get prescribed weight loss medication for PCOS, and receive ongoing support. Additionally, the Sequence program offers holistic care by including an insurance coordinator, a nutrition and fitness plan, as well as clinician check-ins.
Similarly, an observational study on the usage of mobile health interventions among overweight or obese PCOS patients was conducted in China. The study sought to establish whether a mobile-based service that supplies lifestyle modification education would be helpful in the treatment of infertility in PCOS patients. After 3 months of intervention, the percentage of patients who lost weight was higher in the group that received mobile health intervention. Furthermore, PCOS patients from the same group were found to have a higher live birth rate. Ultimately, infertile PCOS patients were more likely to make necessary lifestyle changes based on the usage of mobile applications.
The case studies above prove the benefits of using telehealth to meet the medical needs of women suffering from PCOS. It solves issues regarding accessibility, and long-term management, and can be seen as a lifestyle-based treatment option.
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