Telehealth & Nutrition
Like the lens of a camera, telehealth is able to zoom in and focus on specific aspects of a patient’s health. A dietician just happens to be the sort of specialist that patients in remote areas have limited access to, the very problem that telehealth was designed to rectify. Thus, it should come as no surprise that nutrition is one specific aspect of healthcare that telehealth can zero in on.
A video appointment with a healthcare professional regarding a patient’s nutritional needs is referred to as telenutrition. A Registered Dietician Nutritionist, or RDN, will basically review your past eating habits and your current diet, in order to provide a personalized nutrition treatment plan for the future.
A RDN must operate within the provisions of state licensure. He or she will most likely apply the Nutrition Care Process, a systematic approach to high quality nutrition care that is also adopted by nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists. The process is not one-size-fits-all by any means. It is designed to take each patient’s individual needs into account, which provides the basis for that personalized plan of action. Each step of the process is interrelated, guiding dieticians toward critical thinking and decision-making:
- Nutrition Assessment: It begins with the RDN gathering such information as nutrition-related history, biochemical data, medical tests and procedures, etc.
- Diagnosis: That information and more should then aid the RDN in naming the actual problem, providing a specific nutrition diagnosis.
- Intervention: A diagnosis should lead to a solution, so some sort of intervention aimed at alleviating the signs and symptoms of the diagnosis should follow.
- Monitoring/Evaluation: The logical conclusion of the process is simply for the RDN to schedule a follow-up consultation to check on the patient’s progress.
That last step makes a perfect argument for telehealth. As it is, consulting with a nutritionist is already the sort of appointment that might be best shoe-horned into a person’s schedule via digital technology. A mere follow-up or check-in practically demands a telehealth visit.
From the perspective of a RDN, telenutrition means working from home and a flexible schedule. Technically, all one needs is a laptop and a cell phone and he or she is in business. However, it is important to note that an RDN practicing telenutrition should be using an encrypted audio/video conferencing system that is HIPAA compliant. Using Skype may provide face to face communication but it is not HIPAA compliant in protecting your personal information.
On the other end of the healthcare spectrum, sizeable facilities such as hospitals or nursing homes will still address the topic of nutrition in the lives of patients and residents. They may very well end up doing so while video conferencing with family members or consulting physicians. In the end, telenutrition is the sort of highly specialized healthcare that telehealth is designed for.