Updated July 5, 2021

A consultant dietitian is an essential part of the long-term care interdisciplinary team.

Due to the important role dietitians have in providing optimal nutrition care for your residents, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) require that facilities receive frequently scheduled consultations from a qualified dietitian (1).

However, employing a full-time dietitian is not always necessary or cost-effective.

Here are six ways partnering with a consultant dietitian can benefit your facility and the residents you serve.

consultant dietitian benefits

1. They are cost effective

Onboarding a full-time dietitian is expensive. Aside from human resource hassles, there’s the cost of medical, dental, vision, retirement plans, liability insurance, and many other expenses to cover.

As such, many facilities choose to partner with a consultant dietitian to avoid the headaches and expenses of hiring and employing a full-time dietitian.

Ultimately, contracting with a consultant dietitian can save your organization time and money, yet still allow you to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

2. They improve residents’ quality of life

Therapeutic diets are often ordered for residents of long-term care facilities. These diets are intended to treat a disease or manage a medical condition.

Therapeutic diets, however, may not be appropriate for all long-term care residents.

A move towards liberalized diets can maximize residents’ meal intake, minimize struggle over dietary compliance, and improve residents’ quality of life.

The consultant dietitian can work to educate your residents on making wise nutritional choices, helping them understand how their decisions can impact their health.

3. They improve resident health outcomes

The goal of nutrition care for the older adult is to maintain their health and reduce the burden of disease.

Many studies show that medical nutrition therapy (MNT) can help decrease the risk of developing chronic disease, but in older adults with chronic disease, also reduce their progression (1, 2, 3).

Taken together, nutrition care provided by the consultant dietitian can reduce disease complications, hospital readmissions, mortality, and the cost of care.

4. They help prevent costly penalties

CMS imposes financial penalties on long-term care facilities that have too many residents return to the hospital within 30 days of their initial discharge.

A significant number of these readmissions have a nutrition component, which includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), malnutrition, pressure ulcers, and heart failure.

The consultant dietitian takes a proactive approach to health and can help prevent avoidable hospital readmissions related to nutrition while saving your facility from financial penalties.

The dietitian can also help prevent your facility from receiving costly food- and nutrition-related deficiencies through the implementation of quality assurance and performance improvement (QAPI) plans.

5. They can increase financial reimbursement for your facility

Under the patient-driven payment model (PDPM), dietitians can help identify, document, and treat key nutrition-related diagnoses for improved resident outcomes and increased financial reimbursement.

PDPM is a case-mix classification system for classifying skilled nursing facility (SNF) residents in a Medicare Part A covered stay into payment groups.

By identifying, documenting, and correctly coding conditions and services, including dysphagia, nutrition support, morbid obesity, and malnutrition, dietitians can increase the reimbursement factor for residents in a Medicare Part A covered stay.

6. They are the food and nutrition experts

While many health care providers have some education in nutrition, the dietitian is the food and nutrition expert.

Dietitians have in-depth knowledge about the role of food and nutrition in the prevention, treatment, and progression of chronic diseases.

Dietitians are also knowledgeable about nutrient composition and preparation of food, and the many factors that affect the food and nutrition behavior of people across the life cycle, including older adults.

Finally, they have the skills to translate scientific information into laymen’s terms and assist individuals in gaining knowledge and improve decision making.

The bottom line

Long-term care facilities can eliminate the hassle and cost of hiring and employing a full-time dietitian by partnering with a consultant dietitian.

Partnering with the right consultant dietitian can lead to improvements in resident quality of life and health outcomes, increase financial reimbursement from CMS, and prevent costly deficiencies and penalties.


Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD
Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD

Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD is a registered dietitian with a master's of science in human nutrition and bioenergetics. Gavin specializes in nutrition for older adults and regulations surrounding long-term care as they relate to food and nutrition.