According to the Indian Health Service’s (IHS) OIT June newsletter, five of the six leading causes of death among American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people are nutrition-related. Unfortunately, most AI/AN communities do not have adequate access to nutrition services.
Telehealth is providing a new service model for healthcare facilities to help AI/AN increase access to Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) and Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME). Individual and group telenutrition services as well as DSME are reimbursable services through Medicare for patients with diabetes, end-stage kidney disease, or patients that have received a kidney transplant. Medicare Part B covers individuals and groups diagnosed with non-dialysis kidney disease.
Since 2006, the IHS Telenutrition Program has been providing nationwide individual and groups MNT and other nutrition services using video-conferencing to IHS and tribal facilities. Diane Phillips, IHS Telenutrition Program Director with the Native American Cardiology Program was one of the first registered dietitians in the IHS to deliver MNT services in real-time.
The telenutrition program has provided access to nutrition services to over 1500 patients plus provided over 150 hours of nutrition training to community-based diabetes outreach workers and fitness instructors.
Using telenutirition is strengthening partnerships with tribes and at the same time improving quality and access. Also, telenutrition provides a source of revenue and has been documented in research and at IHS/Tribal health facilities to be well accepted by patients, has proven to be equally effective as in-person encounters, and has been used effectively to expand training to reach isolated and rural providers.