Telenutrition Holds Promise for High-Risk Cancer Patients

Certain types of cancers require compliance with nutritional regimens as part of the treatment plan. This can be a challenge for patients in rural areas where access to cancer-certified dieticians is more limited. Telehealth—or telenutrition—could hold the key to managing these patients, according to Oncology Nursing News.

A study launched by the Levin Cancer Institute paired cancer-certified dieticians with satellite locations of the Carolinas HealthCare System. Under terms of the study, cancer patients visited one of the satellite clinics where they met face to face with their own doctor while having a video teleconference with the dietician.

The key advantage to video conferencing is that it allowed the dieticians to conduct nutrition-focused physical exams, which the on-site physician could help confirm. For example, dieticians could assess fat pads under patients’ eyes and temporal wasting. Dieticians also looked for muscle or fat wasting, and examined the patients’ skin, mouth, and nails.

To qualify as candidates for the study, the patients needed to have demonstrated 10 percent or more involuntary weight loss prior to the start of cancer treatment or had to receive tube feeding or intravenous nutrition. Additionally, they needed to have shown the following for more than 5 days: poor appetite or intake; difficulty chewing or swallowing; nausea or vomiting; mucositis/esophagitis; unresolved chronic constipation or diarrhea, or displayed progressive weight loss.

Since a doctor was present for these consultations, the dietician could write orders requested by the dieticians immediately.

“The patients have been very open to telenutrition because I think they’d rather do that than drive an hour or two to see me in real life,” Michele Szafranski, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, clinical nutrition manager at the Levin Cancer Institute told Oncology Nursing News. “We’re trying to target the highest risk in the cancer population, the people who we could help the most.”

Mary Butler is the associate editor at The Journal of AHIMA.


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