Meet Ilene Cohen of Prana Spirit Nutrition

Learn how Ilene Cohen of Prana Spirit Nutrition combines yoga and nutrition. Learn how she uses Healthie's electronic billing and charting system.

Healthie community, we had a chance to chat with Ilene Cohen MS, RDN, CDE. Ilene is a dietitian and yoga instructor, and the Founder of PranaSpirit Nutrition and Wellness. She’s also organizing a Yoga & Culinary Retreat Designed Specifically for RDNs (this November in Tuscany no less!! – find out more or sign up here ). In this interview, Ilene shares her tips on taking insurance, building your career as an RD, and why nutrition tech is the future. Thanks, Ilene, and we love having you as part of the Healthie community!

Why did you decide to become a dietitian?

My interest in nutrition developed in college. I was always interested in food and cuisine though, cross-cultural cuisine in particular, but I had no real interest in nutrition prior to college; my eating plan in college was that of a typical college student: burgers and french fries every day. Although I liked vegetables, eating healthy was not a priority until my junior year. My roommate in college was vegan, and before I knew it, I had transitioned from hamburgers and french fries to tofu burgers, tempeh and sautéed summer squash! I really became fascinated and wanted to learn more about the health benefits of vegan food. I tried to study nutrition in college but I attended Clark University, a liberal arts school, so the core sciences were not readily available. I got out into the work world and worked in finance — I didn’t love it. Everything kept coming back to nutrition for me and a career where I felt like I could help others while studying my passion for food and nutrition. I went back to school to do my Masters at NYU full time with a Coordinated Internship at the VA Medical Center in the Bronx, and it was the best thing I ever did!

Can you tell us about your nutrition career to date?

After my internship at the Bronx VA Medical Center, I worked as a Clinical and Senior Dietitian at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. I did everything from covering the Intensive Care Unit for enteral feeds to teaching diabetes education classes in the outpatient clinics to working in an endocrinologist approved weight management program. I also precepted dietetic interns for 5 years. I became a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) in 2002, 2 years after I became an RD.  I then got recruited by an endocrinologist to work as an RD, CDE at Bronx Lebanon Hospital’s Diabetes Center. He was looking specifically for a Spanish speaking CDE to join the team and he found me online as I was First Vice President of the Metro NY Association of Diabetes Educators. I worked there for 2-3 years, teaching diabetes education classes and doing one-on-one counseling in both English and Spanish. Then I got recruited by a disease management company based out of San Antonio, Texas to work onsite in NYC as a corporate RD, CDE to provide diabetes classes in English and Spanish — again, they were looking for a Spanish-speaking CDE. I took the position, but the hours were extremely long and the job was way more stressful than I had ever anticipated; despite what my father told me since I was a child to never leave a job without having another, I knew I need to leave for my health. I had been practicing yoga based on suggestion from a colleague at Mount Sinai and I decided to enroll in a full time 200 hour yoga teacher training in the summer of 2007. It was the best decision ever as it changed my entire life and career.

I then got a part time job in a hospital while I taught yoga part time and tried to build up my business. I used my yoga skills when I experienced an unfortunate layoff at my part time job. I went back to work full time at Lutheran Medical Center for 2 years or so, and worked there in an OB/GYN clinic as well as adult and pediatric clinics and school health. I feel that the job was incredible experience for me, but I didn’t have time to teach yoga. So, believing in myself, I again left my full time job to pursue private practice. It was so hard at first, but with all my yoga teaching, nutrition experience, and Spanish skills, I am blessed with a growing private practice and consulting business so it was worth every moment!

What advice do you have for dietitians just getting started?

My best advice for dietitians in getting started is to just get started! I have had so many RD friends tell me that they procrastinate, but honestly, the hard work will pay off. The first step to take is deciding what exactly you want to do — is it corporate wellness plus private practice? Is it working in a hospital for a few years and seeing private clients on the side? If you are developing your own business, I highly recommend taking advantage of free business resources – SCORE and the Small Business Associations are great starts. I actually do recommend accepting health insurance (I know that is a debate amongst many RDNs), but if you want to build a full-time private practice, it’s a great source of marketing.

Mostly, I think having a mentor is very important. That is one area that I did not know about until this past year. I recommend groups like the Nutrition Entrepreneurs DPG which has an amazing listserv. See if you can join a MasterMind group. Connect with other RDNs by attending conferences and networking events. I have met my best RDN friends and colleagues through networking groups. Being a part of the community is so important.

How do you think technology is changing the way dietitians are practicing care?

I think it is the absolute wave of the future. Even the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics just published some new resources on Telehealth. Patients and clients do not even listen to phone messages anymore — the majority are on their cell phones! I have had to update my confirmation policies to include secure text messaging services (not directly from my cell phone) as clients respond most quickly to texts. There has been an increased demand for video consultations in my practice. Everything is done electronically. I use electronic charting, billing and basically everything. I do not even use paper in my practice. I use several amazing software programs to manage my business, and I feel like my business is growing at leaps and bounds, so investing in them makes sense. There is a demand for apps that healthcare professionals can use to connect with patients and clients to provide even better care. We need to speak the language of consumers, and the language is through technology.

Why are you excited about using Healthie?

I am beyond excited about Healthie. When I first heard about the software, I was actually looking for a secure video platform and I thought the app with the photos sounded amazing. I was completely blown away when I first used the software. I have started using Healthie with my clients and they love being able to upload photos of their foods, send me food labels and just get my opinion on their meal planning. It increases their accountability as I can do check-ins with them. I can stay better connected with my patients and my patients feel even more supported. I have also been able to leverage my practice by marketing pricing for Healthie and patients have been interested. I had my first video session last week and it was incredible to be able to see my client while I could type private notes right on the same screen. I love that Healthie is HIPAA compliant. The Healthie team are top notch in terms of providing customer service in such a highly professional manner. I can’t say enough great things about Healthie as a company and can’t wait to continue to offer it to my clients!

Tell us about your perspective on dietitians being credentialed by insurance!

My perspective on insurance is this — while I think accepting health insurance is a great way to start growing your practice, I know that some RDNs think it is a lot of paperwork. It is actually doable as there is great technology that makes billing on your own very easy. I took a couple of MNT billing seminars and then I learned so much on my own through doing it. The billing seminars did not cover much on the technology side of things though. That is what I realized is key: while accepting insurance does take time and you have to subtract that from your total revenue, it is worth it for me to build my clientele. Patients want to use their health insurance. The good news about that is that there is actually expanded coverage after Obamacare and now I have doctors’ offices referring to me after their patients found me online. Insurance is a great way to build your practice and being credentialed by insurance companies elevates our profession as healthcare providers.

I just want to really encourage RDNs to practice self-care above all. For me, yoga has been my anchor — if you have an outlet whether it is spinning, massages, or yoga, make sure that you allow yourself enough time each day and week for yourself. We can only help others if we help ourselves.

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