During the COVID-19 pandemic hospitals and healthcare institutions as well as patients and their supporters have been forced to employ new routines to ensure safe care. Increased hygiene and safety measures now include testing, social distancing, and wearing masks. Hence, telehealth is expanding. Although telemedicine has been used for decades in different domains, we now see a general uptake and innovative ways how telehealth is being employed.
In the field of nutrition, telehealth-based interventions (e.g., for promoting diet changes and body mass index reductions) have already been applied successfully. So, will tele-counselling sessions in nutrition emerge as an alternative to in-person counselling? We spoke with Sandra Arévalo, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, about the impact of telehealth in nutrition. The following responses are specific to her and her team in particular. For information about telehealth in general, please go to the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Please note that March is National Nutrition Month®. This is an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. During the month of March, everyone is invited to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits.
What kind of applications do you see for telehealth in medicine, especially in the field of nutrition?
We use Zoom and the phone but there are a number of apps and telehealth platforms that registered dietitian nutritionists use to communicate with their clients.
What are the benefits of telehealth for patients?
There is no commuting needed which saves time and money. For those at work, they don’t need to take time off. If there is no registered dietitian nutritionist close to you, it’s easier to access one via telehealth.
Can you describe the current uses of telehealth by Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs)?
My particular group of RDNs do nutrition and diabetes education 1:1 via Zoom. We do diabetes self-management education as well as diabetes prevention, facilitate support groups and conduct food demos. Telehealth makes it possible to provide a variety of services to clients.
What do you see as barriers for a successful telehealth implementation?
Our team makes sure to work with IT to be able to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). They also make sure they have a private space to work to protect the privacy of their patients. You also have to make sure your patients understand the technology to have a successful session.
What needs to be done in order to overcome these barriers?
You have to make sure that you work with IT to establish some security systems that protect your telehealth system from hacking. You may need to pay for a subscription because usually the free versions of platforms aren’t secured.
What is your vision for the future of telehealth with regards to the field of nutrition?
Telehealth is here to stay. Our numbers have increased since we started seeing patients via telehealth. Patients are also happier because it’s more convenient to them. In our case, our only disadvantage is that we can’t check your patient anthropometrics, but they can be reported by the patient when necessary. While this is a disadvantage for our team, at the same time it also empowers patients to own their journey in their way to practice healthful habits because they are held responsible for their health outcomes.
Thank you very much for your time and your insight.