QUESTION: If we allow registered dieticians (“RDs”) to order therapeutic diets, do we have to grant them privileges through the Medical Staff?
ANSWER: Yes, you do according to CMS. This is based on a change made in 2014. Traditionally, CMS restricted the ability to order therapeutic diets to “practitioners responsible for the care of the patient.” However, in its Final Rule dated May 12, 2014, CMS changed its position on this matter and revised 42 C.F.R. §482.28(b)(2) to read:
All patient diets, including therapeutic diets, must be ordered by a practitioner responsible for the care of the patient, or by a qualified dietician or qualified nutrition professional as authorized by the medical staff and in accordance with State law governing dieticians and nutrition professionals.
CMS went on to explain the rationale for this change in the Final Rule as follows:
In order for patients to have access to the timely nutritional care that can be provided by RDs, a hospital must have the regulatory flexibility either to appoint RDs to the medical staff and grant them specific nutritional ordering privileges or to authorize the ordering privileges without appointment to the medical staff, all through the hospital’s appropriate medical staff rules, regulations, and bylaws. In either instance, medical staff oversight of RDs and their ordering privileges would be ensured. Therefore, we proposed revisions to §482.28(b)(1) and (2) that would require that individual patient nutritional needs be met in accordance with recognized dietary practices. We would make further revisions that would allow for flexibility in this area by requiring that all patient diets, including therapeutic diets, must be ordered by a practitioner responsible for the care of the patient, or by a qualified dietitian or other clinically qualified nutrition professional as authorized by the medical staff and in accordance with State law. We believe that hospitals that choose to grant these specific ordering privileges to RDs may achieve a higher quality of care for their patients by allowing these professionals to fully and efficiently function as important members of the hospital patient care team in the role for which they were trained. In the proposed rule, we stated that we believe hospitals would realize significant cost savings in many of the areas affected by nutritional care.
However, not all states allow for this type of flexibility. For example, in our home state, Section 111.27 of the Pennsylvania Code states that therapeutic diets must be prescribed by a physician. Accordingly, any hospital that wants to allow RDs to practice in this manner must first obtain an exception from the Pennsylvania Department of Health in order to implement the approach outlined in the new CMS Final Rule.
Also keep in mind that allowing RDs to practice in this way is not required; rather, it is at the discretion of each individual hospital, as explained in a series of responses to comments in the Final Rule:
Comment: Another commenter asked for clarification on whether the proposed requirement only provides a hospital with the option of credentialing and privileging a dietitian.
Response: The requirement, including the revisions we are finalizing here, does not require hospitals to credential and privilege dietitians as a condition of participation, but, as previously stated, allows for it as an option if consistent with State law.
Comment: A few commenters stated that they were concerned about ordering diets for critically ill patients or making specific patients “NPO.” They further state that they would feel comfortable ordering diets only if there was a “‘diet order per dietitian’ order from the doctor.”
Response: As we have stated, the requirement does not require dietitians and nutrition professionals to order diets, but only allows for it as an option if consistent with State law and if a hospital chooses to grant such privileges after considering the recommendations of its medical staff. An individual dietitian or nutrition professional would then need to apply for these ordering privileges.