SAN FRANCISCO – A telemedicine platform that connects patients to registered dietitians is providing a solution for a number of interrelated unmet needs, according to a description at the 2019 AGA Tech Summit, sponsored by the AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology.
Although not limited to patients with gastrointestinal diseases, the applications of this platform are illustrative of the value to both patients and the physicians who prescribe diet as part of the management of chronic conditions, according to Jonah Cohen, MD, who is a founder of the digital therapeutics company Nutrimedy, which created the platform for virtual nutritional counseling.
“As gastroenterologists, we are experts in the function of the gastrointestinal tract but not necessarily in nutrition. Most physicians get very little training in this area,” said Dr. Cohen, who is a gastroenterologist affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Even for those physicians who have expertise and an interest in nutrition, dietary counseling requires a substantial investment of time and continuity to affect behavior change. Helping patients develop an effective diet and implementation strategy to which they are willing to adhere is not a simple task. It requires recognizing and managing nuanced preferences and tastes. For most patients, frequent engagement with an expert is essential to remain on track.
“Nutrimedy’s proprietary matching system connects patients to their ideal dietitian who will help establish a specific nutrition plan for their medical conditions through video visits, unlimited messaging, photo food logs, recipes, and biometric trackers,” Dr. Cohen explained. “The key to the success of these relationships is based on the ease of clinical touch points we’re able to achieve through telenutrition when patients can ask questions, make modifications, and get positive feedback on their own time.”
Launched in 2016, Nutrimedy now has over 1,000 dietitians on its roster and a HIPAA-compliant device-agnostic platform to deliver best-in-class nutritional care remotely.
“The breadth of expertise of our providers enables us to provide medical nutrition therapy across a range of conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, acid reflux, fatty liver disease, and gastroparesis to name just several, for patients anytime, anywhere,” according to Dr. Cohen.
In many places within the United States, there are few expert nutritionists with the specific expertise needed to manage a disease condition like IBS through low FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) diet, and thus appointments are often hard to get for these providers, according to Dr. Cohen. Moreover, he explained that office visits are not just inconvenient but can be an obstacle to a successfully implemented dietary plan.
Other challenges may include cultural or language barriers. Dr. Cohen gave the example of Sophia, a busy mother of two with IBS, who is vegetarian, eats predominantly Spanish cuisine, lives in rural Massachusetts, and speaks Spanish. She prefers not to take medications and hopes to better manage her condition with a low FODMAP diet.
Nutrimedy draws on its roster of registered dietitians to find a good match for patients like Sophia. “Our vision is that everyone deserves to have an expert literally in their back pocket to help them on their journey to better health through food as medicine,” Dr. Cohen explained. He called Nutrimedy “a turn-key solution for GI practices who want to improve medical nutrition therapy for their patients.”
According to Dr. Cohen, Nutrimedy has already proven effective for its core mission of making effective nutritional counseling easier to obtain, and is now working to extend its reach. For example, Dr. Cohen said that the company has actively engaged with employers to provide corporate wellness solutions, and it is partnering with pharmaceutical and other life sciences companies who offer therapies relevant to nutritional health where Nutrimedy has potential to serve as a digital therapeutic companion.
“In almost every chronic condition, diet plays an important role in disease prevention or management,” said Dr. Cohen who believes his company is participating in the effort to reduce the burden of chronic disease related to poor diet. “I feel that in 2019 we’re at a tipping point where health care entities are finally recognizing that we can transform wellness in America through healthier eating.” He believes that Nutrimedy is poised “to play a part in this revolution.