The age of technology has transformed almost every aspect of modern life, and how we give and receive healthcare is no different. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic demand and rise in virtual health services. Initially, we’ve seen telehealth used broadly by primary care physicians, dermatologists, radiologists, and psychiatrists, but is now rapidly expanding throughout healthcare to include registered dietitians and other wellness professionals. As the industry evolves, there is a demand for technology to meet the specific needs of private practice dietitians providing telehealth nutrition services.
Healthie’s Telehealth Platform makes it seamless for you to market, execute and bill for virtual services in your nutrition or wellness practice, in both ONE-ON-ONE and GROUP formats. Conduct HIPAA-compliant virtual sessions from your computer or any mobile device, to reach your clients on-the-go. Beyond virtual calls, the Healthie platform also provides secure ways to send messages, emails, documents, forms and faxes virtually, to support your wellness practice.
In this deep-dive, we’ll cover the Healthie Telehealth platform, best practices for incorporating telehealth services into your practice (insurance-based and/or self-pay) and share our list of telehealth nutrition resources to help you get started.
Whether you have an in-person practice, or want to go completely virtually, you’ll learn the benefits that telehealth services can offer your business.
Offering Telehealth Services in Nutrition Practice
Both clients and practitioners recognize, more than ever, that virtual care is an effective and flexible means to receive and provide
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is the general term used to cover “telecommunications and exchange of electronic information” to support long-distance health care. As a broad term, telehealth includes nutritional care. Specifically, telehealth nutrition (telenutrition) is the provision of nutritional care, virtually. Telehealth and telenutrition include communication over the internet, video-conferencing, e-mail or fax, and other methods of distance communications for communication of broad-based nutrition information.
One thing to keep in mind, is that a wellness practice that provides telehealth nutrition services, does not necessarily only provide virtual services. You can incorporate virtual care into your nutrition practices as a valuable add-on service for your clients. Many successful practices offer a mix of in-person and virtual services, to help enhance their business and improve client retention.
Benefits of Offering Telehealth Nutrition Services
- Flexibility and convenience in your work schedule: work from home or wherever you’d like! Set your hours and availability for the day, and create a schedule that ultimately works for you.
- Savings on time and money: Save your clients (and yourself!) the time and expenses of commuting to appointments. You’ll be able to invest that saved time into building your wellness business.
- Lower startup costs: if you’re looking to launch your business, starting out by providing telehealth nutrition services can help save you overhead costs — setup a home office and save yourself rent, utilities and other fees associated with a separate office location.
- Closer relationships with clients: technology makes it easier to connect with clients – in addition to video-conferencing sessions, message with patients, share documents, and more, to build long-term, effective relationships
- Increased access to care for clients: clients in remote locations now have the ability to receive quality care, thanks to telehealth!
- Expanded educational reach: with telehealth nutrition, you can access more individuals at one time, with webinars and group counseling sessions.
- Clients will love the convenience of virtual care: it’s more accessible for those who are unable to commit because of commute time, or for those who don’t live in a reasonable distance for specialized care.
- Improved client retention and outcomes: using the tools offered by telehealth nutrition to engage with your client more often, and
How to be compliant with state telehealth nutrition laws
Telehealth in the United States is currently affected by laws and regulations at the federal and state levels. Currently, there is no uniform legal approach to telehealth nutrition, and this continues to be a major challenge in its provision. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government announced the move toward encouraging and including telehealth nutrition services in health care coverage. This is done through Medicare.
However, telehealth laws, regulations and reimbursements are still determined by each state government. Parity laws (equivalent treatment of analogous services) between in-person health services reimbursements and telehealth nutrition reimbursements are also determined by the state.
Currently, 32 states and the District of Columbia have parity laws that mandate commercial payers provide coverage and reimbursement for telemedicine services as in-person services. Many other insurers cover at least some telehealth nutrition service. Insurers are starting to recognize the benefits of reimbursement for telehealth, in some cases going beyond the parity law in their state.
Choose a HIPAA-Compliant method of communication
Before taking a leap into telehealth nutrition appointments, make sure your intended method of communication is HIPAA-compliant. This will ensure your client’s private health information remains secure. The Healthie Telehealth platform is HIPAA compliant, so you can be confident that your clients’ information is being kept secure.
Pro tip: Popular telehealth methods, such as Facetime, Skype, text messages, and many more are not HIPAA-compliant and could leave your client’s private health information vulnerable. You must create a Business Associates Agreement (BAA) with the third-party communication service provider to require that they uphold HIPAA compliance within their own secure system.
Check your state licensure laws
Certain states have licensure for dietitians, with practice exclusivity. Even if you are a registered dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you legally must still obtain your state license in order to provide nutrition services.
Check licensure laws in the state where your client resides
For telehealth laws, not only does it matter which state you reside in, but it also matters where your client resides. If their resident state has licensure, make sure you follow local guidelines (tip: if their state has licensure for dietitians and practice exclusivity, then you likely will not be able to counsel them).
Have the right liability insurance?
Make sure your personal coverage includes Telehealth. For more guidance, read our blog post for an overview of dietitian insurance liability plans that cover Telehealth nutrition.
Get Started with Telehealth in Nutrition Practice
When you first start out with telehealth nutrition, there’s a few first steps you want walk through to make sure that you’re prepared to offer a quality service to your clients. Whether you want to launch a completely virtual practice, or add virtual services to your existing in-person practice, it’s important to have a strategic plan. You’ll want to know which services you’ll offer virtually, how you’ll bill for them and how you’re going to incorporate them into your business.
Decide which services you’ll offer with telehealth
Are you going to begin taking on virtual-only clients or will the inclusion of telehealth nutrition at your practice act more as an added benefit for clients who also meet you for in-person sessions? Telehealth can greatly expand where the clients you see are from. As an add-on service, you can offer telehealth as a great way to connect between in-person sessions, or in instances of inclement weather when a client would reschedule.
Even more, if clients need to reschedule or cancel at the last minute, you can offer to do a telehealth nutrition session in lieu of cancelling. More often than not, clients would rather have a virtual session than cancel completely (and be charged a late cancel fee!). If you intend to start seeing out-of-state clients, first remember to check with the state licensure laws.
Determine how you’ll bill for virtual services
Are you an insurance-based practice? Consider what types of services will be transferable to a virtual practice (and are covered by insurance, if applicable). Many practices offer telehealth nutrition options for follow up sessions after an in-person initial consultation, and some insurance providers may require an initial in-person consultation for reimbursement of virtual follow-up sessions.
Ultimately, reimbursement for telehealth nutrition services depends entirely on the insurance provider and client plan. As you get started with telehealth, you’ll want to reach out to a client’s insurance carrier first to confirm virtual coverage. It’s important to ask which codes are reimbursable, if an in-person initial consultation is required and which forms of telehealth are accepted (video-chat only, or phone sessions as well?). As you become more familiar with the insurance providers that you’re in-network with, you’ll be able to better determine the reimbursement process.
Alternatively, for clients who won’t be covered by their insurance for telehealth, you may want to consider offering virtual sessions as a self-pay option. This will continue to help with client retention, as it gives clients flexibility and an alternative option for when they can’t make it into the office for in-person sessions.
Test it out, hold a trial run
You’ll feel more confident before your first telehealth nutrition consultation with a client if you hold a test run with a family member or friend beforehand.
Here are a few things to consider during your trial run :
- What is the step-by-step process to log into your video chat?
- Do you need to download any software or internet browser?
- Is a log-in, if any, required?
- What will be required of your client during the session?
Pro Tip: If they are required to have any tools or equipment (i.e.: microphone, headphones, etc.) for your session, you should specify prior to your appointment time.
Start with a few telehealth clients, and ramp up over time
If you currently see clients in-person and want to start incorporating telehealth sessions, it’s a good idea to choose a few clients to trial virtual sessions with. You can start by offering telehealth nutrition as a way to connect between sessions with these specific clients. Starting out slow will help you feel more comfortable with providing virtual sessions, and work through any technological issues that may pop up as you get adjusted. Once you’ve tried this a few times with a few different clients, you may feel ready to start offering telehealth more broadly.
How Healthie Supports Virtual Nutrition Services
The Healthie Telehealth platform allows you to easily connect with your clients for virtual nutrition sessions. Even more, virtual care goes beyond video-conferencing. Whether you meet with your clients virtually or in-person, you can utilize the Healthie Telehealth platform to chat, review photo-based food journal logs and share e-documents to support your clients between sessions.
One-one-one video calls
Through Healthie, you can create appointments designated as “telehealth.” When clients book a virtual sessions, they are able to login to their Healthie client portal on desktop or the mobile app to easily launch a video chat. These high-quality and HIPAA-compliant video chat sessions allow you to easily connect with your clients for virtual nutrition sessions, or between session check-ins.
Group video-conferencing (Integration with Zoom)
Do you want to reach a broader audience without the hassle of renting space and organizing large events? Easily do so by providing group counseling sessions or support groups with telehealth.
Within the Healthie platform, you’ll have the ability to create a new appointment type and indicate that it is a group telehealth nutrition call. Easily add this new appointment to your calendar, and allow clients to enroll or manually add them. To join the call, clients will simply click the “launch” link included in their appointment reminder.
Screen-sharing during sessions
When working with clients virtually, it’s important to have the same, quality experience, as if you were meeting in-person. One way to ensure there is no laps in care, is through screen-share capability during a video call. You, or your client, will be able to click the “share-screen” icon during a call, and easily see the other person’s computer screen. Walk through the Healthie platform together, review documents or food logs or trouble-shoot challenges.
Take notes during your client video-call
Take notes on the same screen (not visible to client) during a session, and save time spent on documentation. Your notes during a call are automatically tied to a client’s chart note, streamlining how you conduct charting.
Group webinars as a lead-in gen tool
A “lead-in gen tool,” is a marketing term for a freebie or offer that will entice new clients. It’s a valuable service or product that you can market through you website or social channels to help generate a list of emails (new leads!). These prospective clients can then be put through a marketing channel like an email campaign, so that you can convert them into paying clients.
Webinars make a great lead-in gen tool. They require some research and time initially, but can attack a large amount of prospective clients. Even more, you can offer webinars to existing clients as an additional service or education to help them be more successful. (ie. If you work with eating disorder clients, you may want to offer an “Intuitive Eating” webinar that you can use to attract new clients, but would also be valuable to your current client base.)
Create a virtual program or educational series
Programs enable you to build, compile, and distribute resources on a specific topic, to an audience of your choosing. The core tenant of a program is that it drips content out over the course of weeks and months, rather than sharing all information at once. Content in a program can include videos, e-mails, documents, surveys and quizzes, and links to external websites.
For Healthie Members: Resources for getting starting with Healthie Telehealth
Healthie Telehealth Forum provides state-by-state information on licensure and telehealth laws