Your guide to starting an online private practice for dietitian nutritionists

Starting an online private practice as a dietitian is an excellent way to set up an efficient, accessible and inexpensive business that is future-proofed against covid-19 related limitations. Plus, it’s relatively simple, with minimal startup costs compared to a brick and mortar physical location. In this guide, I will walk you through the exact steps to get your online private practice up and running. 

If you prefer to listen to this as a podcast, check out the episode here.

Online practice is becoming the new norm when it comes to healthcare. Not only is online care increasing accessibility to dietetic services, it is modernizing the profession by recognizing that technology can play a key role in practice, without sacrificing client experience. 

The other great thing about online practice is that it’s relatively simple to set up. In fact, if you wanted to, you could set up an online private practice in one day. Yup, that’s right, one day… and I will show you exactly how to do it below.

To start off, let’s walk through some of the benefits of starting an online private practice vs. having a physical location: 

  • Lower overhead costs. When you start a business, you incur some startup costs (ex. Paying rent, utilities, office supplies and furniture, etc.). This can be challenging when you haven’t yet brought any money into your business. Setting up an online practice results in significantly less overhead costs compared to opening a physical location. This means that you end up with more money in your own pocket, faster.

  • Less travel required for both you and your clients. This means that you can either fit more clients into your work day, or you can take more time for yourself.. Win-win! 

  • Convenience and flexibility - for both you and your clients. Suddenly, you have complete control over your timing and scheduling. You can find times during the day that work for you and your family. Also, if a client doesn’t show up, less time is wasted. 

  • Increased access to care for clients. This is a big one. Suddenly, when you operate remotely, you are able to access clients in every part of your state/province (or perhaps even further abroad). This results in more opportunities for you and better access to care for those who live in remote locations. 

  • Expanded reach for your education. When you operate online, the opportunities are suddenly endless. You can run an online webinar, group coaching program or digital class and it can be accessible to anyone, anywhere. 

Before you start setting up your practice, there’s some pre work to be done. Make sure you get clear on your niche and target audience first. For more information on how to do this, listen to my podcast episode here

So without further ado, here are the steps for getting your online practice off the ground:

Step 1: Choose a business name and register your business. 

Once you’ve decided on your niche and narrowed in on your target market, it’s time to put it into action. Google “setting up a business in [your state/province]” and you will find a page outlining some of the options available for types of businesses to register. Many dietitians in Canada start off as sole proprietors, whereas many dietitians in the US start off as LLCs. Choose which option makes the most sense for you, file the papers, pay the fee and you will receive a business number. You can then use this business number to access other services, like setting up a separate business bank account (which you should definitely do to keep your business and personal income/expenses separate). 

Step 2: Understand where you are allowed to practice 

With online practice comes greater access to clients. You may even be able to access clients outside of your state or province. For US dietitians, check the state licensure maps here or here (apparently, the second resource is updated more frequently) to understand what is allowed within each state. At the time of writing this blog post, in Canada, provincial regulations in Alberta, Ontario, PEI and BC require that you be registered in that province to provide services to those clients. Validate this information before taking on clients from those provinces.

Many dietitians will choose to register in other states/provinces or partner with dietitians in other states/provinces to have even greater access to clients.

Are you doomed if you choose to just provide services in your state/province? NO! Think of all the local businesses in your area that are thriving - physio, chiro, etc. As long as you have strong marketing and sales practices in place, you can still thrive in your local area.

Step 3: Make sure your liability insurance covers virtual care 

We all have to have liability/malpractice insurance in order to practice. Check with your provider to ensure that virtual care is covered in your plan. 

Step 4: Choose a HIPAA/PIPEDA compliant online practice platform that offers virtual care within it 

If there’s one thing I would recommend spending money on when it comes to starting your business, it’s an all-in-one client management program like Healthie or Practice Better (affiliate links). These programs take care of everything for you from client bookings, online appointments, collecting payments and so much more. Instead of trying to piece together smaller, cheaper pieces of software, invest your money in a program and save yourself the time and energy. 

At the time of writing this blog, both platforms listed above are compliant with HIPAA (US) and PIPEDA (Canada) requirements (you can validate this information on their websites). The platforms range anywhere from $29-49 per month depending on your needs. 

Step 5: Accept payments 

If you have decided not to use one of the platforms listed above for processing payments, there are other options. Many dietitians will simply accept e-transfer, Square or Paypal and then they will provide their clients with a receipt following their sessions. 

If you’re concerned with the fees that are added by these providers, you can either build the fee into the price that you charge your client or chalk it up to a business expense. You have to spend money to make money, don’t get hung up on the small stuff. 

Step 6: Add telehealth to your consent form 

It’s important to ensure you are obtaining informed consent from your client for virtual care and communication. Many of the all-in-one client platforms (listed above) will provide you with consent form templates that you can use. RD2RD has a number of different client form templates that you can purchase through their website (for Canadian dietitians, note that these are US documents and would need to be customized to privacy legislation in Canada). 

It’s important to ensure that your client understands your office policies as well (ie. what happens if they are late, they no-show, etc.). Put these together into a set of office policies that the client has to review and sign before working with you. A lawyer can also help to ensure that you have the proper forms, documents and contracts in order. 

Step 7: Create a tip sheet for your clients 

It can be helpful to provide your clients with a tip sheet so they know what to expect when it comes to virtual care. Outline what technology will be used, how they can access it and some tips for ensuring they have a positive experience. Tips might include: 

  • Finding a quiet, private space 

  • Whether it will be video or just audio 

  • Setting expectations of the visit - length, what you’ll be covering, your office policies regarding last-minute cancellations, no-shows, lateness, etc.