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02/24/2012

Nutrition Informatics:

The Intersection of Information, Nutrition, Technology

Health care reform and patient care delivery are on the fast track in the United States because of recent legislation and several landmark documents. As a result, health care professionals, including registered dietitians (RDs) and diet technicians registered (DTRs), as well as vendors, government organizations, and many associations, such as Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association [ADA]), are stepping on the gas to keep up with all the changes that are taking place.

Nutrition education resources, the ability to search for information, and technology skills have seen significant changes since the time when computer systems were introduced many decades ago. As other professions began to recognize the importance of “informatics” as it applied to their area of practice, so did ours. In 2007, ADA formed the Nutrition Informatics Work Group, which defined “nutrition informatics.”

The formal definition, based on an established definition for biomedical informatics, is:

“The effective retrieval, organization, storage, and optimum use of information, data, and knowledge for food and nutrition related problem solving and decision making.”

In 2010, in recognition of the importance of ongoing work in this area, the Nutrition Informatics Work Group became the Nutrition Informatics Committee (NIC). The NIC translated this formal definition into a simple line, 140 characters in length:

“Nutrition informatics is the intersection of information, nutrition, and technology.”

Even before the formation of the Nutrition Informatics Work Group and NIC, ADA was taking steps to position the dietetics profession in the informatics arena. Beginning in 2002, the International Dietetics and Nutrition Terminology standardized language for nutrition professionals, the Nutrition Care Process and Model, and the Evidence Analysis Library were developed, all reflecting the use and value of nutrition informatics in dietetics practice.

Present Implications

This is an exciting time as health care professionals look at the ways informatics will impact their profession and individual areas of practice. In fact, many dietitians – whether educators, researchers, businesspersons, or consultants--already use informatics without even realizing it.

Here are some examples:

  • Clinical dietitians use electronic health records (EHRs) to assess, diagnose, and implement appropriate care plans and track outcomes
  • Management dietitians use informatics to manage personnel, budgets, food procurement, production, inventory, and delivery of meals
  • Community dietitians use databases to provide up-to-the-minute global public health surveillance and to monitor disease outbreaks around the world
  • Businesses and consultants take advantage of social media to brand themselves, their services, and their products, using blogs, portals, and tweets on a daily basis
  • Researchers use informatics for accessing databases, developing protocols, capturing data, and submitting research
  • Educators have access to online applications and networking, with simulation and newer technologies replacing PowerPoints and lectures in the classroom

Health care is moving toward “data following the patient” and the expectation of “interoperability” of data between and within EHRs. However, as health care professionals witness the exciting changes that are taking place, they also must recognize the importance of protecting individuals’ privacy and security. Like all health care providers, it is necessary to abide by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations, sharing a person’s information only through secure, encrypted, and/or password-protected means of communication.

Future Implications

Health care professionals are not the only ones who will use information and technology to diagnose and treat illness. Portable electronic devices and other forms of mobile health (mHealth) help patients play an active role in their care. Sensors are available to allow individuals to report important information about their blood pressure or blood glucose directly to their health care provider. They even can enter information about the lunch they just consumed and send it to their dietitian via a picture or a portal.

 Resources

All of these changes will require collaboration at all levels of health care and education. Just keeping up with the vocabulary alone can seem overwhelming. Legislation and initiatives like the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, Technology Informatics Guiding Educational Reform (TIGER), and Meaningful Use may not have seemed relevant to dietetics practice at first. RDs and DTRs are quickly learning how important each of these is to our profession and how critical it is to keep up with the latest developments.  More and more Academy members are regularly reading Eat Right Weekly so they don’t miss important and timely updates.

To help keep you on the fast track, the Academy has many resources available. Here are just a few:

 Summary

The United States is moving toward an electronic health care system at an extremely rapid pace. Because of their education and experience in many areas of practice, RDs and DTRs are well positioned to participate in this exciting transformation. The Academy also is working at many levels to help RDs and DTRs embrace the idea of nutrition informatics. The intersection of nutrition, information, and technology will provide the opportunity for RDs and DTRs to help reduce costs, reduce errors, and provide better care, regardless of area of practice.

 Academy members are welcome to join the on-line Nutrition Informatics Community, where sharing of information and ideas is welcomed and encouraged.

 


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