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J Med Internet Res. 2012 Jan 19;14(1):e16. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1955.

Primary care providers' perspectives on online weight-loss programs: a big wish list.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, Houston, TX 77030, USA.



Integrating online weight-loss programs into the primary care setting could yield substantial public health benefit. Little is known about primary care providers' perspectives on online weight-loss programs.


To assess primary care providers' perspectives on online weight-loss programs.


We conducted focus group discussions with providers in family medicine, internal medicine, and combined internal medicine/pediatrics in Texas and Pennsylvania, USA. Open-ended questions addressed their experience with and attitudes toward online weight-loss programs; useful characteristics of existing online weight-loss programs; barriers to referring patients to online weight-loss programs; and preferred characteristics of an ideal online weight-loss program. Transcripts were analyzed with the grounded theory approach to identify major themes.


A total of 44 primary care providers participated in 9 focus groups. The mean age was 45 (SD 9) years. Providers had limited experience with structured online weight-loss programs and were uncertain about their safety and efficacy. They thought motivated, younger patients would be more likely than others to respond to an online weight-loss program. According to primary care providers, an ideal online weight-loss program would provide-at no cost to the patient-a structured curriculum addressing motivation, psychological issues, and problem solving; tools for tracking diet, exercise, and weight loss; and peer support monitored by experts. Primary care providers were interested in receiving reports about patients from the online weight-loss programs, but were concerned about the time required to review and act on the reports.


Primary care providers have high expectations for how online weight-loss programs should deliver services to patients and fit into the clinical workflow. Efforts to integrate online weight-loss programs into the primary care setting should address efficacy and safety of online weight-loss programs in clinic-based populations; acceptable methods of sending reports to primary care providers about their patients' progress; and elimination or reduction of costs to patients.

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