Dietetic interns gain insight into future of telehealth

During the summer and fall months, nine individuals involved in Iowa State University’s Dietetic Internship had a unique opportunity to gain insight into the future of telehealth.

The interns had a first-of-its-kind experience working with the Rise smartphone app, which allows users to interact with registered dietitians as they progress toward a more nutritional lifestyle. Through the app, clients can send pictures of their meals to the coaches, who evaluate the meals and rate them based on the nutritional content. Clients and coaches also can communicate with each other via the app to discuss goals and ask questions.

The opportunity to work with the app was made possible through a collaboration between the ISU Dietetic Internship program and the Partnership for a Healthier America in conjunction with One Medical Group.

“We were invited to participate in this program by an ISU alumna, Susan Roberts, MS, RD, JD, who is very active in the national health/wellness scene,” said Jean Anderson, director of the Dietetic Internship program. “The invitation was way too neat to not try and make it work.”  

Rise app afternoon snack
Users of the Rise app can take photos of the meals and snacks they eat throughout the day. They send the photos to nutritional coaches who rate the meals based on their nutritional content. What makes the Rise app different from other health and wellness apps is that all of Rise's nutritional coaches are registered dietitians. Photo by Whitney Sager

The interns spent 12 weeks this past summer going through a training period with One Medical Group to learn how to use the app and apply motivational interviewing techniques in a virtual setting. They took turns playing the role of the client and the role of the coach.

Then in September, the interns began working with nearly 200 clients from low-income families who had been recruited to take part in the program for free. The interns provided feedback via the app to the families regarding the meals the families were eating.

“I was ecstatic to be selected to work on this cutting edge project that gave us a chance to experience the expanding field of telehealth,” said Emily Wisecup, a Rise intern.

What makes the Rise app unique from other health and wellness apps out there is that Rise is the only one that offers users daily access to registered dietitians.

“This ensures clients that they will receive useful and truthful, evidence-based information about healthful eating and weight loss,” said Jill Schechinger, another Rise intern. “Clients have immediate access to their coach via app messaging, which is extremely helpful when clients are trying to decide what to get at the grocery store, what to order from a restaurant, or what to choose from a work potluck.”

Through their experience working with Rise, the interns gained an insight into what the general public knows about nutrition and that each person’s nutrition journey is different.

“It is very important to tailor your nutrition education to meet the client’s knowledge and readiness for change,” Schechinger said.

“There is no cookie cutter diet and exercise plan that will work for everyone, and it will take some trial and error to find out what will work for you,” Wisecup added. “It is important to take into consideration many factors when deciding on what is right for you, including cultural and taste preferences, any medical conditions you might have, and your values and current lifestyle.”

Wisecup also said she learned a lot about various foods by having to research and calculate the nutritional content of foods her clients were eating.

Both Schechinger and Wisecup agree that the knowledge they gained while working with the Rise app will benefit them in their future careers.

“My experiences with the Rise app during the Iowa State Dietetic Internship program will help in my career as a registered dietitian by giving me experience with the growing field of telemedicine and technology-based nutrition services,” Schechinger said.

Another set of interns will begin work with the Rise app later this month, the last time the program will offer this opportunity to dietetic interns, Anderson said.