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Using Nutrition Technology to Feed Data-Hungry Managers

July 1, 2004
by root
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The correct mix of nutrition software, databases, and handheld technology can build a healthy balance sheet. A guide by Brenda Richardson, MA, RD, CD, LD

Using nutrition technology to feed data-hungry managers

With the right software, information systems can add speed and accuracy to the facility's dietary operations Application of information technology (IT) to nutrition in long-term care is increasing as providers strive to offer better customer service and positive nutritional outcomes while maintaining and improving daily operations. Today's IT for nutrition offers everything from complete dietary department management systems (purchasing, receiving, inventory, menu and meal planning, clinical nutrition, and overall systems integration) to individual software components designed for specific tasks. Current trends in LTC dietary IT systems include areas listed in table 1.

Significant cost savings through the use of nutrition software and databases have been reported. With proper IT use, accuracy of operations can be improved, while overall labor time is decreased. In fact, a retirement services company in Ohio operating 11 nursing centers reduced average daily food cost for each of its 2,700 residents by 10%. Individual meal costs dropped from $5.28 to $4.74, resulting in more than $500,000 in annual savings. Suppliers (see selected list, table 2) of nutrition-related IT are increasing and expanding the features available with it.

Integration of nutrition-related IT with overall facility IT systems has been on the rise, as well. For example, Alma Sudderth, MS, RD, LD, senior vice-president of sales, marketing, and business development for SureQuest Systems, Inc., noted that facilities are now including the writing of interfaces as a part of their contract. In the case of this company's product, the interface allows data to be imported from the facility's patient information system to SureQuest's Three Squares« Nutrition and Food Service Management Software. Information such as the current "diet order" can be imported from the patient information system to generate a meal/tray card. This ensures that the diet order is accurate when printing meal orders for the patient.

PDAs and Nutrition Management
Portability of nutrition-related IT is an emerging trend with the increased use of personal digital assistants (PDAs). A poll conducted by Today's Dietitian magazine found that 30% of dietitians use PDAs in their practices, and 35% are considering buying them. Registered dietitians state that the clinical documentation workload can be reduced by as much as 50% when using nutrition-related IT. PDAs can assist with data entry, assessments, calculations, tracking, database lookup (foods, nutrients, drugs, enteral formulas, etc.), and learning (some manuals are available on PDAs). A noticeable trend is that PDAs are quickly taking the place of traditional nutritional calculators. Table 1. Dietary System IT Trends in Long-Term Care

  • Just-in-time purchasing
  • EDI (electronic data interchange) allowing for real-time generation of purchase orders, order status, etc.
  • Electronic purchasing through a variety of distributors
  • Use of computer systems; fax/modem order transmission replacing traditional telephone ordering
  • Order reports generated with accurate vendor information
  • Sending orders to vendor's direct-order entry system
  • Electronic price updates relayed from vendors' computers


  • Bar-coding technology or pen-based computing for data entry
  • Radio frequency devices transmit information from a bar-code scan to a computerized inventory system wirelessly and in real time

Inventory and Cost Control

  • Automatic adjustments to a perpetual inventory allowing the department to know what is on hand in the storeroom at all times
  • Cost information on recipes, special functions (e.g., birthday parties, open houses), etc., using current ingredient prices
  • Monitoring and controlling the cost of food items used by various departments
  • Accurate costing of ingredients, recipes, menus, and nourishments
  • Purchasing reports generated using the same categories used in budgeting
  • Stock numbers for every item the user wants to track, order, budget, and manage
  • Storeroom requisitions (pick lists) that combine ingredients needed for all recipes
  • Generation of processing sheets that detail the amount of each ingredient that must be preprocessed, such as produce that must be minced, chopped, or sliced
  • Printing of "thaw schedules" and freezer-pull labels that show all of the items and required amounts of each that must be transferred from a frozen location to a tempering location
  • Stock numbers customized based on facility storage locations and product specifications
  • Purchase orders generated directly from the forecasted order
  • Bar-code inventory-tracking methods

Menu Planning and Meal Production