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Nutrition Informatics Blog

Telegram, Telephone, and Yes, Telenutrition!

(What is Nutrition Informatics, Community Nutrition) Permanent link   All Posts

Telegram, Telephone, and Yes, Telenutrition!

By Peggy Turner, MS, RD/LD

No one would deny that health care is changing. You used to have to go to your doctor’s office if you were sick or had a problem that needed attention. Thanks to modern technology, all that has changed.

The prefix tele is defined as a combiningform, meaning“distant,” especially“transmission over a distance,” used in the formation of compound words, such as telegraph.1 As we become more and more global, so does the health care that is available. Physicians are not the only ones who can provide needed services. Dietitians are finding ways to offer services as well.

I was pleasantly surprised when I did a search in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and found an article entitled Telehealth—Opportunities and Pitfalls.2 It points out that this is still a pretty new area and many questions still need answered. The article also explains the differences between telehealth, telepractice, and telemedicine. In fact, visit this page on eatright.org under the Members Tab, http://www.eatright.org/Members/content.aspx?id=7341 (cut and paste link into your browser), to find definitions, FAQs, and information about requirements for Medicare medical nutrition therapy (MNT) reimbursement.

It is hard to bring up the topic of telehealth/telemedicine/telepractice without also thinking about reimbursement and licensure issues. Imagine how excited I was when I looked at the program for the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) this year and saw that Mary Ann Hodorowicz, MBA, RD, LDN, CDE, CEC, and Joanne Shearer, MS, RD, LN, CDE, will present a session entitled The Dollars and Sense of Telehealth: Designing Programs to Maximize Effectiveness.  I have no doubt that these two experts will help all of us understand the implications of licensure laws and coverage/reimbursement as they apply to providing these exciting new services.

But FNCE is not the only place where we can find answers to our burning questions. I was pleased when I looked in the Evidence Analysis Library, and you guessed it, under “T” telenutrition was the first topic listed. What is the effectiveness of telenutrition interventions and counseling provided by an RD came in with a Grade I level of evidence. You cannot get much better than that. Check out the Evidence Analysis Library for more details.

Are dietitians providing telenutrition? They are at the VA in New Mexico, as well as other VAs across the country. Using technology known as the Tandberg system, dietitians are able to connect to community-based outpatient clinics and provide nutrition services for weight loss, weight gain, diabetes, high lipids, and much, much more. Now veterans living in rural or outlying areas can have access to nutrition services. Not only do they benefit from nutrition services, but they save time and gas miles as well. Sounds like a win-win to me.

It does not take much of an imagination to think of other ideas of how dietitians and diet technicians registered can take advantage of the technology to bring nutrition front and center. Corporate dietitians can take their message to any place their company has offices. Wellness dietitians can use the technology to provide anything from cooking demonstrations to informational sessions. Researchers can use the technology to communicate and share information in large multicenter studies, and the list goes on and on.

As an educator, I was excited to find out that my university is gearing up for more telehealth education and services on campus. I now have a Polycom® app on my iPad, which by itself may not sound that exciting, but when you consider the fact that I can connect my iPad to a projector, it literally means that I can connect with other Polycom users and bring experts into my classroom via my iPad. Now try “teleing” me that is not exciting!

References

1.   Dictionary.com. Available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/tele. Accessed June 21, 2012.

2.   Busey JC, Michael P. Telehealth—opportunities and pitfalls. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008:108:1296-1301.


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