This week, we're happy to feature Carol Park LPC, RD, LD, CEDRD! Carol is a dietitian and professional counselor practicing in Texas. Her focus is on helping people who struggle with eating disorders. Carol has also been an important player in care via telehealth by co-founding the online HIPAA-compliant platform, thera-LINK, that allows counseling sessions over video. Join us to learn more about how Carol got started in nutrition and her experience with telehealth!
Healthy Bytes: Hi Carol- it's great to talk with you today! Can you start us off by telling us more about why you got started in nutrition?
Carol Park: I majored in Nutrition in the early 80’s and had an interest in working with eating disorders. Following my undergraduate work, I did a year internship to become registered, and upon completion, I began my thesis for my master’s degree, where I studied the effect of bulimia on basal metabolic rate. My research propelled me into the field of eating disorders, and I have continued on this path for my entire career.
Now that we know how you got started, can you tell us about your business? What is your core service?
I'm currently a private practitioner and Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian. I worked for 17 years in an inpatient treatment setting as the registered dietitian on the team and during that time began to establish my private practice. I later returned to school to become a licensed professional counselor, which has expanded my work with eating disorders further. I am passionate about working alongside those on the path to healing, and I love working with the food piece of the disorder to bring normalization to eating.
What would you say makes practicing in such a niche area special?
My practice is very specialized in working with eating disorders across the spectrum, from anorexia to bulimia to binge eating disorder. I also work with individuals who just want to have a healthier relationship with food and with their bodies. I was recently certified in Brene Brown’s work on shame resilience, so I bring this into a client’s work where there are struggles with shame around eating and body image.
Tell us about your experience with providing telehealth services – why do you provide this service, how do you benefit, how do your clients benefit?
I began providing telehealth several years ago when my clients, who were going off to college, asked if I could do online sessions during their transition. This was a viable option for a real need for my clients and I agreed. Since that time, I have expanded the use of telehealth as other scenarios have arisen such as a mom with a sick child, snow days, clients studying abroad, business trips, etc. The opportunity for online sessions allows both me and my clients to meet when we might have otherwise missed the session. Telehealth has also allowed me to bring a significant other “into the office” when there was a need and they were at a distance.
After years of utilizing telehealth, what do you think other dietitians should consider before using telehealth?
I think that the main thing that RDNs need to consider is getting a BAA (Business Associate Agreement) from the telehealth platform that they are using. As healthcare providers, we are required to use a HIPAA-compliant platform and Skype will not give you a BAA. There is confusion around HIPAA compliance and there is not an actual certificate that a company receives, but companies who are following the processes required for HIPAA know what they need to do, and they will give you the BAA. Insurance reimbursement is expanding for telehealth and will continue to do so. Many of the larger insurance companies are now doing some training on providing telehealth and are requiring documentation of the BAA. In addition, one needs to look at their state licensure laws (as applicable) to make sure to practice within board governing rules. For example, some states require that you see only residents of the state that you are licensed in. If you have a license in a state, you are bound by the rules of that license.
Along with HIPAA and licensure laws, what other insurance considerations came into play when offering telehealth as part of your services?
Insurance is beginning to reimburse for telehealth and knowing the insurance codes and qualifiers for the codes is important. Some insurance companies see these visits as the same as face to face, in person, appointments, but each insurance company and the individual plans within the company may vary, so it would be prudent to check on this.
What platform do you use for telehealth?
This is part of my story on my use of telehealth. I use thera-LINK, of which I am a co-founder. This venture for me came about when I was using Skype to provide telehealth several years ago and began to hear that I was not supposed to use it. In my search for a HIPAA-compliant platform, I found that most of them were for doctors and were very expensive. The short story is that some business partners and I decided to create an affordable, easy to use, HIPAA-compliant platform, and thera-LINK was born.
What is your favorite telehealth client success story?
I worked with a client for a short time and then she went out of state for a time to help her daughter who just had a baby. Her daughter actually contacted me via email to say that her mom was struggling and she wondered if I ever did video sessions. I loved that the daughter even thought to ask for this for her mom and we began doing weekly video sessions, which helped her to get back on track and stay on track until she returned home. Using video instead of a phone makes all the difference because there are so many non-verbal cues that would be missed via phone.
It's amazing that you have been able to help people even from far away! Before we wrap up, is there anything else about telehealth that you wish to share?
I do think that telehealth is a means to enhance and expand your practice. Since I have done telehealth for several years now, the word is getting out. People are contacting me because of this aspect of my practice. I also think that telehealth is going to grow because research has proven it to be effective. Technology is what the upcoming generations know and use. Personally, I would encourage RDNs to begin incorporating it into their practices because it is a win/win for client and practitioner.
Parts of this interview have been edited and shortened.