Connect Care strengthens nutrition links to patient health

May 27, 2022

Patient Food Services manager Regan Thompson at the Alberta Children's Hospital says she’s looking forward to the benefits Connect Care will bring to nutritionists and patients when her site launches on May 28.

Patient Food Services manager Regan Thompson at the Alberta Children's Hospital says she’s looking forward to the benefits Connect Care will bring to dietitians and patients when her site launches on May 28. Photo by Suzy Thompson.

Meal manager looks forward to collaboration on a provincial scale

Story & Photo by Suzy Thompson

CALGARY — It’s hardly cliché to say patient meal manager Regan Thompson has a lot on her plate.

Her team plans menus for Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary and associated clinics, provides more than 100 kinds of formula for infants and tube-fed children, and tracks feedback about what tastes good and what’s ‘yucky’ — all while gearing up for Connect Care’s launch at the end of May.

But Thompson and her team say they’re looking forward to it, because Connect Care will make a positive difference to Nutrition Services’ role in patient health.

“We have a lot of patients who transfer back and forth from the Alberta Children’s Hospital, especially to the Edmonton Stollery Children’s Hospital, where they go for heart surgeries,” she says. “(Connect Care) will just definitely help with the flow of information.

“There's also the ability for patients to access information from home. They're going to be able to see some of that data, and some of that health information firsthand. I think a lot of times you go to appointments, and you may not necessarily take everything in, or it's hard to take everything in.”

Depending on the patient’s condition, that information will include growth and weight charts, reactions to certain foods and medicine, and the kind of diet consumed in hospital and at home.

Patient nutrition has a major impact on health. Malnourished patients typically remain in hospital longer and are more likely to be readmitted within a few weeks than are other patients. However, tracking the effect of changes in nutrition is a slow process. Dietitians and researchers at sites where Connect Care is already in place remain enthusiastic about how it has improved their ability to do just that.

Sue Buhler, a research lead for Nutrition Services, says that before Connect Care her team laboured to gather data on a patient’s baseline nutrition status.

“I can't even describe to you how difficult the struggle is to get patient data — and to get enough data that we have a baseline,” she adds. “Right now, it requires us to mine the data by going manually through paper charts.”

Since Connect Care’s introduction to sites in Edmonton and northwest Alberta over the past two years, much has changed. Now, Buhler says patient nutrition, age, length of stay, height and weight data is populated daily and available to her team. All are crucial to discover health trends and support better care for these young patients.

“To me, the biggest benefit of Connect Care is that we can actually collect this data,” she adds.

After two-and-a-half years, what kind of difference has it made?

It’s already changing the way Alberta Health Services (AHS) cares for patients, says Melissa LaChapelle, a provincial practice lead for nutrition, who’s been immersed in Connect Care since she began her job. The data coming through Connect Care is ultimately changing the way dietitians interact with patients — and how AHS clinicians take patient nutrition into account.

“We're learning a lot about workflows, processes and how evidence-based practice can be built into a system to improve care and make it safer,” she says.

“The system highlights where we've needed to develop some better processes, allows us to look at the evidence and see where we can improve, and then take these learnings and build them into the system,” LaChapelle adds.

“With Connect Care, we've developed our pediatric nutrition screening tool,” she says of a step taken during admission that determines if a child is malnourished, or otherwise should be referred to a dietitian.

“I think we're in the infancy of really understanding how we can use all the system has to offer. We're using what we know — and we're taking every advantage of every opportunity that comes up.”

Thompson says she’s looking forward to the day Connect Care is fully in place across Alberta —and to a future of more collaboration among dietitians to improve patient nutrition on a provincial scale.