We live in a world plagued by misinformation. From information about the novel coronavirus fraught with fallacy to fake news, consumers often have a difficult time sifting through bias and noise. However, this also extends to the information we as people receive about nutrition and food. When it comes to fad diets and other trends in the world of nutrition, consensus and personal testimonies often take precedence over scholarly authority. Many of today’s biggest social media wellness influencers, like Gwyneth Paltrow of Goop, have been accused of endorsing and marketing products and treatments that are based on pseudoscience or have otherwise demonstrated to lack efficacy. At worst such claims have been proven to be harmful, dangerous, and misleading. How can we encourage consumers to sift through the noise and enlighten, inform, and empower them with good information? Introducing Nourishly: a platform that aims to connect everyday consumers with registered dietitians and experts on nutrition.
Research for this project consisted of a series of interviews with registered dietitians and culinary nutritionists, including students in training to gain licensure as well as more established professionals. We interviewed a total of seven professionals with an intimate and informed relationship with food. Importantly, we should clarify there is a bit of warfare on terminology in the world of nutrition and dietetics. While the term “nutritionist” is largely unregulated in the world of medicine and has thus been co-opted by nonexperts, the term “registered dietitian” is selectively granted by accrediting bodies to qualified and certified practitioners. While there are several certifications in the field that are somewhat interchangeable in nature such as RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) and CDN (Certified Dietitian Nutritionist), all require that practitioners earn at minimum a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics with rigorous scientific coursework as well as sit a comprehensive exam surveying their general body of food knowledge. Lastly, registered dietitians must complete a dietetic internship (DI) with over 1,200+ hours of supervised practice in clinical, community, and food service management settings. The components of the DI are collectively known as rotations. We only interviewed professionals with the aforementioned credentials for this assignment.
After clustering the key insights from the interviews and grouping them by theme, we identified several areas of issue for registered dietitians. First, practitioners expressed discontent with a world plagued by misinformation related to nutrition and dietetics. This was exacerbated by social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, the content of which often isn’t authoritative or peer-reviewed. This has led to the rise of fad diets past and present, including today’s explosive ketogenic diet. With many dieters witnessing the miracles of various fads on social media, authority is often driven by consensus rather than scholarship and expertise.
Secondly, the registered dietitians interviewed expressed an interest in broadening the scope of their practice. Dietitians were often limited by regionality and locality in searching for clients, and many would connect with clients on a hyperindividualized rather than generalized basis. Many of the dietitians interviewed also either owned a private practice or expressed interest in starting one, but were also cognizant of the significant expenditures involved in the cost of maintaining such an operation. These costs — both time, capital, and labor intensive — included marketing expenditures, physical office space, publicity generation, recruitment of a clientele, and the like. Essentially, running a private practice was like operating a small business with a team of employees. Armed with this data, we decided to create a platform that would synthesize each of these insights into one singular platform.
During the course of this research project, we recognized there didn’t yet exist a universalized and centralized resource to connect and consult with a registered dietitian. With the increasing digitization of the modern world in light of the coronavirus pandemic, we saw a need for a platform that would allow registered dietitians to quickly and efficiently pivot to telehealth. Like one dietitian in training said, “we need good media to fight bad media. We need to use those very same digital platforms that are being used by social media influencers to enlighten and inform consumers and empower them to make the right decisions.”
Nourishly is an online telehealth platform that allows consumers to connect and consult with a registered dietitian at home. Consultations with registered dietitians can be scheduled by messaging and videoconferencing with practitioners on the platform itself. In order to work on the platform, practitioners must be certified as registered dietitians by accredited organizations. Nourishly institutes a quality assurance process in place to guarantee that all practitioners working on the platform have received the credentials and licensure from a legitimate body.
Instead of working in a clinical or hospital, Nourishly allows registered dietitians to work from home. There are no physical costs like office space or commuting involved when practitioning on Nourishly. You can quickly and easily connect with a client from the click of a button. From videoconferencing to personal messaging, everything one would need to consult with a client is streamlined onto the platform. And instead of operating a private practice which often comes with various marketing expenditures, Nourishly takes care of infrastructural costs with its prebuilt platform that allows practitioners to easily create a profile online and connect with clients using one centralized resource. Pricing on Nourishly per consultation would be dependent upon the length of that consultation as well as the discretion of the individual dietitian as some may have more experience and industry expertise.
The primary goal of Nourishly is to enlighten and inform consumers with the best of nutrition information from experts and industry authorities. Nourishly takes advantage of the key behavioral design principle of authority, among the central principles of influence as outlined by psychologist Robert Cialdini. By giving consumers access to licensed experts in the field of nutrition and dietetics regardless of regionality or locality, we help users cut through bias and noise in the world of information. Nourishly also draws users in with its bright and colorful interface, capitalizing on the design principle of physipoleasure. Likewise, the platform is easily navigable as well with its native messaging and videoconferencing system. You do not have to leave the platform in order to schedule a consultation with a registered dietitian in effect creating ease and facility of use — which is reflective of the design principle of psychopleasure.
User Journey and User Persona
Jane is a twentysomething graduate student who is curious about trying the ketogenic diet, which is all the rage on social media. She wants to lose weight, tone up, and gain more energy. However, while the diet is explosively popular on social media, Jane is aware this information doesn’t come from nutrition experts, but rather, it relies on personal testimonies and user consensus. Jane wants to consult with a registered dietitian to learn more information about the diet rather than embarking on it without the background knowledge that she needs. Jane visits Nourishly and decides to schedule a consultation with Anna Hisk, RD, so that she can receive information about the diet free of bias and noise. After the consultation, Jane realizes that she is armed and empowered with peer-reviewed knowledge, and she decides a fad diet would not suit her tastes. With the help of her registered dietitian over the course of several sessions, Jane embarks on a meal plan designed to be a bit more sustainable instead — one that would allow her to indulge in her favorite foods in moderation.
Nourishly also produces native content to fulfill its mission of educating consumers and enlightening them with facts and truth. We know that all users may not have the desire or means to consult with a registered dietitian individually. However, Nourishly aims to reach and inform consumers wherever they are in the cycle of eating. The platform is home to a weekly Q&A series called “Dietitian in Residence: Ask the Expert” where users can submit questions to be answered by practitioners in thoughtful and well-researched articles with information drawn from trustworthy peer-reviewed sources. Each week, the series would spotlight a registered dietitian that can be found on the platform and invites that practitioner to respond to their questions of choice (that may also often reflect their area of dietary expertise). Nourishly also releases digestible short-form video content to educate platform visitors. We produce a popular series titled The Ridiculist: Fact or Fad? with celebrity dietitian Abby Sharp that deconstructs and critiques dietary trends and fads. Each video is about 5 to 7 minutes in length. Ultimately, this content also gives users a taste of the knowledge they could gain from a private consultation with a registered dietitian as well as serves to market and promote highlighted practitioners on the platform.
Nourishly does not support its platform with advertisements in an effort to divorce itself from a digital world of misinformation. Instead, Nourishly takes a 10% commission from each individual consultation with a registered dietitian to sustain the platform operationally. Secondarily, Nourishly supports itself with donations from the general public to help achieve its mission. We run monthly campaigns with targeted fundraising goals, and participation is greatly welcome from both individuals and organizations at large.
According to the popular technology and startup industry publication TechCruch, experts are predicting an explosive growth in telemedicine as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic. This would likely increase consumer buy-in and uptake of Nourishly. To continue with our growth, Nourishly will pitch the concept to registered dietitians and onboard them to the platform. Lastly, the team would advance the prototype with more research and features, and subsequently build a website to get the platform up and running.
Slideshow of Prototype: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1AuXbEHttJ_vxNaGFOdKil8sTBbkdjZcHM24hl0Sn6m8/edit?usp=sharing