The biggest treatment hurdle for most non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) patients adjusting their lifestyles in accordance with their condition. Accountability is the main concern for many patients, as they may only see their doctor or therapist a few times a year to check in on their progress.
For this reason, a group of researchers sought to test whether online counseling would be beneficial to these patients as a replacement for in-person treatment. The online alternative has the potential to become a regular component of a NAFLD patient’s everyday life since they could partake in the treatment from home on their own schedule instead of having to attend group sessions at an agreed upon time.
“Lifestyle changes are pivotal for the treatment of NAFLD. The use of web-based education tools in the management of non-communicable diseases has long been suggested, considering the huge number of cases at risk and patients’ needs. Web-based programs might help maintain contact between patients and therapists since the majority of cases are in an age range in which job constraints make it difficult to use a systematic face-to-face or group approach,” said one of the lead researchers behind the study, Giulio Marchesini.
The study included more than 700 participants, all NAFLD patients, who were treated using this online method for an average five-year period. The mean age of the participants was 52 years old. The online therapy incorporated interactive games, learning tests, motivational tests, and email accessibility with a therapist as part of the treatment plan. The results of the web-based therapy were statistically similar in all areas and statistically better in some when compared to the control group who underwent the standard in-person group-session therapy for the condition.
Online Therapy Works Just as Well as In-Person
Both groups met the goal of losing ten pounds within two years of treatment. The two groups both showed a decrease in liver enzymes, but the web-based group had a higher frequency of normalization than the control group. Stabilization or decrease of both fibrosis and steatosis were consistent between the control and experimental groups.
“Counseling is an effective therapeutic option until drugs in development to treat NAFLD are approved by regulatory agencies, and it will continue to be key to managing weight loss to remove the primary cause of NAFLD,” said Marchesini. “Web counseling to stimulate healthier lifestyles is an effective alternative to group-based counseling and may be a feasible option for busy liver units considering the high number of cases that need to be educated. It is also well appreciated by patients, saving time for actively working individuals.”
The benefits of online therapy options for a prevalent condition such as NAFLD are innumerable. The programs offer accessibility to treatment for patients living in rural areas or with mobility or transportation issues. They also resolve the issue of conflicting schedules for patients attempting to enter into a group-based therapy who may work unusual hours or be on-call for their employment by making the sessions operative at any time.
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