AI giving power to dieticians while relieving pressure from doctors

It seems that many doctors know appallingly little about diet’s vast and intricate role in human health, and it stems from a lack of basic nutritional knowledge of medical students during their training. It’s a common finding that is relatively country agnostic, and while people aspiring to be doctors desire to help patients eat well, there just isn’t room in the curriculum for a comprehensive understanding – which is where dieticians step in. Continued development in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology will allow doctors and dieticians to work together in order to drastically improve patient care.

It seems that many doctors know appallingly little about diet’s vast and intricate role in human health, and it stems from a lack of basic nutritional knowledge of medical students during their training. It’s a common finding that is relatively country agnostic, and while people aspiring to be doctors desire to help patients eat well, there just isn’t room in the curriculum for a comprehensive understanding – which is where dieticians step in. Continued development in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology will allow doctors and dieticians to work together in order to drastically improve patient care.

Everyone needs some assistance with planning the ideal diet that is going to be best suited to their bodies, and there are almost 7,000 Accredited Practising Dieticians (APD) in Australia who are helping people build their health to prevent medical problems, as well as treating people with acute and chronic conditions. 

Rates of chronic illness are on the rise, with modern daily encounters involving agricultural chemicals and toxic pollutants wreaking havoc on people’s bodies. Problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a prevalence of around 3.5% in Australia, and people often first visit their General Practitioner (GP) to figure out what is going on. 

Australia is currently in the midst of a GP crisis, with just 1 in 6 young doctors becoming GP’s, and many abandoning the bulk billing system. Emergency departments are getting clogged up with people requiring less urgent primary care, and opportunities to implement preventative measures that can keep people out of hospital are being missed. 

There are less than 31,000 full-time equivalent GP’s in Australia, and one of their favourite referrals to make is to a dietician. This is a key inflection point where there is a chance to prevent patients having to eventually seek care from a gastroenterologist, of which there are only around 360 in Australia. Investigations at this stage of medical care usually involve procedures such as a gastroscopy or colonoscopy, which is something everyone would like to avoid.

A doctor will spend on average less than 20 hours in total studying nutrition during four years of medical school – so it certainly can’t be expected of them to master this craft. A patient also can’t expect a doctor to conduct extensive testing and engage in dietary planning, especially during the standard 15 minute consultation

To become an APD, you need either an accredited bachelor or masters degree as well as an intensive year under supervision. Dieticians learn many tricks of the trade during this time, and some new innovations are giving them unprecedented knowledge as to exactly what a patient’s body desires on a cellular level. 

In the new age of dietetics, scientists are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to  develop algorithms that are able to determine all the foods a person’s body would agree with, based on factors such as genetics and the microbiome, as well as lifestyle, environmental and social factors. This data is extremely valuable to dieticians, who are able to interpret it and curate a tailored diet that is more scientifically based than ever. 

Genetic testing in particular is an area where AI is starting to work wonders. The dietary patterns of humans ancestors has been proven to drive the selection of genes involved in nutrient metabolism. In a country like Australia that is a hub of multicultural diversity, people have heritage from all around the world and therefore have vastly different genetic makeups that would do well with sophisticated analysis.

Giving dietitians more power through AI will go a long way to relieving the burden on the healthcare system. In America, more than a million people die every year from diet related diseases. Precision nutrition is expected to become a mainstay in medical care by 2030, which is a move welcomed by the entire healthcare industry.

 

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