April 19, 2002

Vanderbilt providing video outreach to rural areas

Featured Image

From left, dietetic interns Jaime Fountain, Wendy Causey and Staci Edwards, and Brian Lishawa, Vanderbilt medical student, participate in a video conference focusing on diets with patients with diabetes. The class is a community outreach program combining medical and nutrition education in rural Tennessee counties. (photos by Dana Johnson)

Vanderbilt providing video outreach to rural areas

Dale Keatts was diagnosed with diabetes three years ago in his hometown of Dover, Tenn. He was 42 and although he received good medical care at Stewart County Medical Center, there was some nutritional information about the disease that wasn’t passed along to him.

For instance, he thought people with diabetes had to avoid sugar.

But Keatts found out he was mistaken during an outreach project in Stewart County, sponsored by a grant from the Tennessee Department of Health and implemented by six students from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and 16 dietetic interns at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The project, which began in December 2000, provides “Lunch and Learn” diabetes education for citizens of Stewart County, aiming to increase the knowledge of diabetes and healthy behaviors related to the control of and prevention of Type II diabetes. Those who take the class are asked to spread the information they have learned throughout the community.

Keatts, a salesman and carrier for Shopper Peddler Advantage, a free newspaper in West Tennessee, said he started attending the lunch sessions a year ago, and was surprised to receive Rice Krispies Treats at one of the sessions.

“I thought it was a trick,” he said. “I couldn’t believe we could actually eat them. I remember the name of that session so well – ‘You Can Have Your Cake and Eat it Too.’”

During the monthly sessions, the dietetic interns provide the nutritional component and the medical students provide the medical component via video teleconference and receive elective credit for their work. Topics of the videoconferences, which offer food demonstrations, have included exercise and weight control; complications of diabetes; dining out; carbohydrate counting; and label reading.

Keatts said attendance at the sessions has grown so much that it’s difficult to find a seat. “It’s just fascinating what they’ve done. I’ve learned so much and I try to share what I’ve learned with others.”

Dianne Killebrew, educational coordinator of the VUMC dietetic internship, said that Stewart County is a medically underserved area. About 30 percent of the population of Stewart County (population 12,370) are 55 or older, and the Stewart County Health Council has identified diabetes as the No. 2 health priority.

Killebrew and Dr. Thurman L. Pedigo, clinical professor of Family Medicine and interim chair of the department, said the videoconferencing helps get the word out to people who would be hard-pressed to drive to Vanderbilt for a conference of this type.

Lunch and Learn participants are given pre- and post-tests at each session to measure a change in knowledge related to diabetes. They are also asked to document what they are currently doing to provide diabetes awareness.

Robert Neblett is a fourth-year Vanderbilt medical student who has participated in the outreach project.

“As a student interested in family medicine, I wanted to answer the call for student input on this project and to see how we are applying technology in community education,” he said. “Beyond gaining exposure to videoconferencing technology, I hoped to broaden my experience in communicating with lay listeners as well as my own understanding of a widespread, devastating, yet treatable disease.”

Neblett said he learned a great deal about diabetes through his own preparation as well as from the dietetic interns, who provide vital information about specific nutritional and lifestyle strategies in fighting diabetes.

“I think that our participants in Stewart County will expand and reinforce both their knowledge base and their confidence,” Neblett said. “I believe that these lay leaders are committed to serving their community and that they are developing a sense of being equipped to share what they learn with friends and co-workers.”