When working with clients in your nutrition practice, follow-up care is critical in helping your clients establish long-term healthy habits. As the wellness professional, you know the worth of follow-up care, but reinforcing this with clients can be difficult. How you structure your follow-up sessions, and the way you communicate next steps to clients, can improve client retention.
In this article, we’re covering how you can structure your follow-up sessions, best practices to establish in your business for follow-up care, and ways to re-engage clients who have fallen off your schedule.
Initial Consultation: Setting Expectations for Follow-Up Care
Before we tackle follow-up sessions, it’s important to review the expectations you create with your client during your very first meeting. In most cases, clients tend to be new to nutrition counseling. They may not be sure what to expect, how you’ll work together, or how often they should follow-up. They are looking at you, their expert, to help understand the nutritional care process. If a client is unsure of what work they should do between sessions, or when they should follow-up, there is a higher likelihood that they will not text(?) next steps when working together. This can be especially true for insurance-based clients, who have not purchased several sessions in advance or committed to a long-term treatment plan.
Here are some points that you may want to address with your client during your initial consultation:
- Outline for your client what your initial consultation will look like, and how long you’ll spend together,
- Set 2-3 wellness goals for your client throughout the consultation, being specific and realistic in the time-frame.
- Listen to your client to understand all of the nutrition or health related outcomes they would like to achieve.
- Reiterate the outcomes to confirm that you’ve heard your client.
- At the end of your session, outline what their treatment plan will look like including:
- What order you may work on addressing their concerns
- How frequently you’d like to meet
- How you’ll communicate together between sessions
- The specific goals you’d like your client to work on before their follow-up
- Always have your client book their next session before leaving.
The most important factor to keep in mind during your initial consultation, is to not overwhelm your client. This is a common pitfall that many dietitians and nutrition professionals make — often symptomatic for those with a clinical background. In a clinical setting, follow-up care is not guaranteed, making it critical to provide all information and educational resources to a client during the initial assessment.
In a private-practice setting, the structure of both initial consultations and follow-up sessions rely much more on setting a caedance for your treatment plan. If you provide your client will all the resources they need in one sitting, chances are they’ll feel overwhelmed. You also run the risk of having a client feel like there’s been an “end” to their care, as opposed to a “pause.” So instead, with your private practice clients, structure your initial sessions so that they will provide enough education for your clients to get started, and leave them with clear goals to work on until your next meeting.
As a rule of thumb, if a client requires follow-up care, don’t let them leave the office without their next nutritional counseling session on the schedule.
Once a client walks out of your office, the onus will be on them (and you) to reach out. As with life, days are busy and weeks slip by before we remember to schedule that session — and with a large gap of time between sessions, it’s like that your client will not have made much progress towards their goals.
How Frequently to Schedule Follow-Up Nutritional Care Sessions
The caedance that you set with your sessions depends on your client’s health goals as well as your process. However, consistent care is essential — and it’s important to reinforce this with your clients.
Most typically, dietitians and nutrition professionals in private practice have clients follow-up every two weeks. This amount of time allows clients to work on implementing their health changes, and to work through challenges as they arise. Check-ins can become more or less frequent depending on your client’s progress. For stable clients that don’t need a lot of accountability and are excellent at achieving their set goals, you may want to start pushing follow-up sessions to every three weeks, then once a month, and eventually to once a season (or ending care). If a client is struggling, then more frequent sessions may be warranted, and you can suggest meeting weekly.
For clients that need the most amount of accountability and support, such as those struggling with eating disorders, weekly or twice weekly sessions may be warranted. Again, it is up to you as the nutrition professional to recommend the best treatment plan for your client.
Structuring Follow-Up Sessions for Nutritional Counseling
Just like your treatment plan should follow a caedance, so should your follow-up sessions. It’s important to allow your client to express their challenges, and frustrations, but you must remain in control of the session flow. As your follow-up session may only be 30-45 minutes long, sessions can fly by without really addressing your client’s nutritional care or their next goals. If the client has driven your session, and time has run out, there may be expectations that you’ll either extend their time (without compensation) or your client will feel frustrated at not receiving any guidance.
Don’t be afraid to ask a client to pause, and redirect them towards the current topic. Redirection is necessary when a client is getting off-task from the question you initially asked, or you are falling behind on your time schedule.
“Jane, let me have you pause right there – although what you’re sharing is important, I don’t want us to part for today without reviewing your meal plan or setting new goals.”
Here is a suggestion for how you can structure a 45 minute follow up session:
- Connect: small talk, build a connection with your client by asking how they are, or how their weekend was (< 5 minutes)
- Challenges: what challenges has your client experienced since your last sessions? (10 minutes)
- Successes: what successes does your client feel they achieved? (5-10 minutes)
- Nutrition Plan: what changes can you make to your client’s nutritional plan ie. do they need new lunch ideas, recipes, strategies (10-15 minutes)
- Goals Review: go through your list of client goals to mark off those that have been accomplished, identify which ones may need to be adjusted, create new goals (5 minutes)
- Setup Next Appointment (< 5 minutes)
Streamlining Follow-Up Sessions and Charting
To save time, you may want to create a charting template for your follow-up sessions. EHR platforms designed for nutrition professionals like Healthie, include charting templates that work for nutrition counseling follow-ups. Apart from industry standard forms, you also have the ability to create your own charting templates — customizing your forms will allow you to establish the session flow that will work for your specific clients and counseling style.
Moreover, Healthie charting forms can be set to pre-fill, which means when you follow-up with your client, your charting form will autofill in your last session’s notes. This will allow you to simply edit the fields that need to be updated, as opposed to re-writing all of your content again. For nutrition professionals, this can be especially helpful when documenting, reviewing, and editing your client’s meal plan.
Want to learn how Healthie’s EHR platform can help you streamline your client charting? Start your free trial today.
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