How Can Virtual Dietitians Help Employee Health?
Why Registered Dietitians are an essential part of workplace wellness for your company
Does your employee health plan include dietitian services? Coverage for face-to-face access to local dietitian services is a no-brainer for any employer health plan. Seeing a dietitian virtually through phone, video, online course or virtual group programs also offers a great option to reach your employees especially if they are shift workers, remote workers or live in locations where access to services is limited. Virtual support also offers the unique benefit of being able to more easily include spouses to fully integrate the nutrition plan at home for families.
Online health, nutrition, and wellness counseling have the potential to change the landscape of workplace wellness programs.
- 30% of Canadians have a chronic disease
- 60% of Canadians are overweight or obese
- 61% of employees are burned out on the job
- $3.5 billion is spent on stress-related absences by Canadian employers each year
Employee health issues cost employers money when employees make more claims leading to higher premiums and prescription drug costs. Investing $1 in dietitian services has been shown to save $4 in drug costs:
Lifestyle interventions led by dietitians can help employers SAVE MONEY by reducing health-related lost productivity by 64% and decreasing disability days by 87%. Interventions led by dietitians can also improve the health of employees by reducing their risk of chronic diseases and by helping them to manage nutrition-related issues like food allergies.
Working with dietitians is a cost-effective way to provide information and solutions for many of your employee’s health issues and your workplace productivity and healthcare costs. But what is the best way to provide dietitian services for your employees?
Does Virtual Health and Nutrition Counseling Deliver?
With advances in technology, online health care is an emerging trend for medical professionals including physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and therapists to meet with and counsel clients. Virtual nutrition counseling by dietitians via phone or video conference, also called e-counseling, distance counseling, or telehealth, is a way to meet the needs of employees and companies to cost-effectively and efficiently deliver personal, individualized health and wellness coaching to a busy and diverse workforce. Not only is virtual counseling cost-effective, but it is also convenient and less time-consuming because it eliminates the time and stress of travel to and from face-to-face appointments. “Virtual nutrition counseling enables dietitians to see clients who travel frequently for work or who live in remote areas and wouldn’t be able to commute to a dietitian’s office,” explains Today’s Dietitian.
Virtual health and wellness coaching can be conducted via telephone, Skype, or other video conferencing tools, email, with dedicated digital counseling software, or using messaging and chat software or apps. Digital counseling can be done one-on-one or in group sessions at work.
Benefits of Virtual Health and Nutrition Counseling
Virtual dietitian counseling saves time and money for employees because they do not have to travel to and from their appointment. Some appointments may require an hour of time, while check-in sessions may last only a few minutes.
Online counseling “provides access to those who otherwise would not have access to services,” finds TheraNest. Employees who live in remote areas, who travel for work, or whose work schedule makes it difficult to schedule in-person office appointments benefit from the flexibility of distance counseling.
3. Less Anxiety
For employees prone to shame, stress, and anxiety, virtual counseling “is less anxiety-inducing than face-to-face counseling, which includes worrying over what to wear, travel time, and dealing with traffic. Not having to deal with these issues leaves more time and energy for the individual to focus on him or herself and the issue,” says Better Help.
4. Removes Obstacles
Distance counseling eliminates reasons to avoid counseling sessions due to bad weather, traffic, or other common excuses. Virtual counseling also offers the potential benefit of getting family members on board who may not have access to attending face-to-face sessions with their spouse for support.
As telehealth becomes increasingly commonplace, more insurers are paying for virtual counseling. “Nearly all payers now believe telehealth will help rural members access providers and may attract companies that want to offer modern conveniences to employees of the Netflix generation, who expect on-demand services. Insurers are also hoping telehealth will live up to its hype by keeping people out of more expensive healthcare settings,” according to Modern Healthcare.
By The Numbers: Does Virtual Counseling Work?
Although over 20 years old, virtual counseling is relatively new when compared to traditional health counseling. For employers, measuring the success rate and benefits of digital counseling depends on subjective feedback from employees as well as cost-analyst by benefits administrators.
- 21% of patients who have used telemedicine services say the quality of care was similar to or higher than an in-person visit. – Software Advice
- A study of the outcomes of care for 8,000 patients who used telemedicine services found no difference between a virtual appointment and an in-person office visit. – C2 Solutions
- US employers could save up to $6 billion per year by providing telemedicine technologies to their employees. – American Hospital Association
Best Practices for Virtual Health and Wellness Counseling
Virtual counseling is becoming increasingly commonplace and is developing a track record for what works, and what doesn’t.
A good digital connection between the individual and the counselor is important for successful virtual coaching. Technology has advanced to the point where many employees and companies have higher-quality video equipment, smartphones, and faster internet connections than ever before.
For some types of health and wellness counseling, video conferencing is preferable to telephone sessions because the coach and client can have eye-to-eye contact and the counselor is able to see the client how responds and engage with body language and verbal cues, which can be very important for addressing many physical and emotional health issues. Video conferencing also offers the option of being able to share your screen to provide education handouts and drawings that can enhance learning.
Client confidentiality and privacy is a critical issue for both in-person and virtual counseling. Employees want to be assured that counseling sessions are secure, respect their privacy, and follow privacy laws. Services such as VSee and Doxy.me video conferencing offer secure telehealth software solutions.
3. Informed Consent
Virtual counselors should get informed consent from all e-clients, just as they would in person. The same ethical codes for counselors apply to virtual sessions as in-office sessions. Workplaces that provide virtual health and wellness coaching should follow the same guidelines in sourcing and recommending health and wellness virtual coaches for their employees.
Virtual health, nutrition, and wellness coaching combined with workplace wellness programs is the ultimate win/win for employees and companies. Increased productivity and reduced benefits costs can be achieved by a happier, healthier workforce that has their health and nutrition needs addressed in a timely, supportive environment. As a Registered Dietitian for close to 20 years, online nutrition course facilitator, and workplace wellness and productivity expert, I’ve seen first-hand the difference nutrition can make. The experienced dietitian team in our practice can tell you in person, by phone, or via videoconferencing, which are all effective ways to counsel our clients on weight concerns, meal planning for home/travel/shift work, heart health, digestion issues, diabetes, and more.
Virtual health and wellness nutrition counseling is an important tool that can truly benefit the physical and mental health of your employees.
PS – Want to determine how your workplace rates with nutrition? Take our Workplace Nutrition Scorecard https://www.healthstandnutrition.com/workplacescorecard/
Sign up for my quarterly corporate wellness newsletter loaded with practical nutrition tips, articles, and recipes for a healthy workplace here: EnerTHRIVE! Workplace Nutrition Newsletter
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About Andrea Holwegner
CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker
Andrea the «Chocolate Loving Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more