In today’s culture, there is an abundance of misinformation regarding healthy eating and diets, making it hard to decipher what is legitimate and what is really just a marketing ploy. This has become increasingly more problematic as individuals with newly diagnosed health issues are quick to take to the internet to try to find solutions, leading to mixed messages that can impact their health. That’s why healthcare teams are a crucial part of proper healing, as they provide guidance and plans to ensure each patient is fully equipped with the correct information. A key component of that process is the work of dietitians.
Registered dietitians are agents of change, helping develop plans specific to each person’s needs that include behavioral modifications and education on proper nutrition. HHS registered dietitians Mary Hall and Maddy Davis share exclusive insight on how dietitians serve as an advocate for patients.
“Dietitians are specifically trained in medical nutrition therapy, clinical nutrition, and nutritional education, and have a broad knowledge base of how food can impact a patient’s overall health,” states Mary Hall.
Whether a patient has one or multiple comorbidities, dietitians play a critical role in supporting a positive prognosis and helping patients to maintain quality of life. “One of my best practices is making sure patients with newly diagnosed diseases, like diabetes or congestive heart failure, are seen as soon as possible,” says Maddy Davis. “Diagnoses such as these can be overwhelming, and patients rely on their medical team to provide them with the information needed to manage their condition properly.”
Dietitians serve as advocates for the patients, and collaborate with the clinicians to ensure a fully developed plan for improved health.
“During rounds with the medical team, I provide the most recent nutrition recommendations from reliable nutrition journals and discuss them in detail with the physicians,” states Hall. “This best practice helps combat malnutrition throughout the healing process.”
During a patient’s stay at the hospital, their nutrition starts with what is served during mealtimes. “It’s vital for the culinary department and the dietitians to work together to create menus for patients. Where the culinary department’s focus is more on flavors, trends, and plating, the dietitian’s role is to ensure that each item being served is backed by research-based evidence for the best outcomes for the patient,” says Davis. “Even though we approach food from different angles, both the culinary team and dietitians have open communication and meet on common grounds to ensure meals are both healthy and flavorful.”
To reduce readmission rates, dietitians are pivotal in creating a plan to help patients manage their condition after discharge. “Dietitians are specifically trained in motivational interviewing and behavior change. These skills are used often in order to really reach patients and help bring them to their ‘why’ for making a lifestyle change, then building a plan with short-term goals that drive them to accomplish it” says Hall. “To influence behavior change, we first discuss their background. Are they food insecure? Are controllable factors affecting their life?”
The dietitian’s assessment provides an opportunity to establish goals, keeping the big picture in mind, and form a relationship with the patient that gives them a strong support base.
Dietitians have the ability to influence change—whether it is reaching out to the clinical team to devise short-term and long-term goals for patients, teaming up with culinary services to provide menu options fit to specific dietary needs, or building a unique nutritional plan and supporting each patient through their journey. Their diverse roles within a healthcare setting allows for continual education regarding nutrition to be shared among all departments to benefit each patient’s overall health. Dietitians are reducing readmission rates, length of stays, and ultimately providing cost savings for hospitals by providing a key element for healing—proper nutrition. By staying proactive instead of reactive, dietitians are truly serving as positive agents of change.
Registered Dietitian Maddy Davis joined HHS in April 2017, serving as a champion dietitian, where she not only develops nutrition plans for patients, but also oversees dietetic interns at her facility. Maddy has a wide array of experience across many settings, including school food service, long-term care, and acute care. Maddy is a graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics.
Registered Dietitian Mary Hall serves as the Director of Food & Nutrition at an HHS partner facility in Martinsville, Virginia, where her responsibilities include supporting the nutritional needs of patients, while also managing and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the culinary department. Mary earned her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from the State University of New York at Oneonta, and a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition from New York University.