Nutrition Programs for Hospital Patients

by Matt Weik

I saw an article the other day that talked about hospitals using nutrition programs to speed recovery for patients that can not only save the hospital money, but it can get the patient out of the hospital sooner. This brought up many questions as well as thoughts which I’d like to discuss.

Is malnutrition a real problem?

Looking at society today, I don’t see a problem with malnutrition, but according to research, one out of three American’s going to the hospital are either at risk of malnutrition or are actually already malnourished. The study is showing that hospitals who utilized nutritional supplements were able to speed up the recovery time for the admitted patients and get them out the door sooner. In addition, doctors began to educate the patients on proper nutrition and how they can utilize supplements to meet their daily macro and micronutrient needs. Whether or not they continue down the path of healthy food choices is yet to be seen by research, but if I were a betting man, I’d say as soon as they leave the hospital, what they learned about nutrition is thrown out the window and they go back to their normal lifestyle.

The study looked at Chicago, specifically, and found that by utilizing a nutrition program with patients, it saved nearly $5M in costs from four local hospitals. One of the doctors from the study mentioned, “The study’s findings demonstrate that modest changes in the way we care for patients, such as ensuring patients are nourished during their hospital stay, can have a big impact in reducing costs and improving health outcomes.”

This is actually pretty substantial findings as many hospitals are overbooked with the amount of people being admitted on a daily basis as is. If they are able to get patients in and out quicker, they are better able to help more people—in addition to the cost savings that is associated with using the nutrition program. On average, the cost savings is around $3,800 per patient who comes in and is being treated for malnutrition, as well as the ability to have the patient released on average two days sooner when compared to patients not using the nutrition program.

One of the scientists working on the study said, “The results of this study support the idea of elevating the role of nutritional care and related interventions in advancing value-based medicine in population-based management. The study underscores how proper inpatient nutrition care, although frequently ignored by providers, healthcare administrators, and payers as an important aspect of healthcare delivery, is nevertheless clinically and economically significant at the facility and integrated delivery network levels. As providers, administrators, and payers face added pressures from rising healthcare costs, value-based nutrition interventions should be considered in all hospitals across the US.”

Patients leave without truly changing their habits

While at the hospital and on their nutrition program, patients are being spoon-fed meals according to the guidelines set by the hospital. While this is great and I find value in what they are doing, as soon as the patient leaves the hospital they are back to their potentially poor nutritional habits. I’m not expecting the hospital to stick with them and continue to push them to use the program, but at what point will people start understanding that what we put in our bodies and the nutrients that we provide it with play a huge roll in our overall health and well-being? Only adhering to a nutrition program for a few days is not enough to have them change their habits and behaviors when they walk out the door.

Maybe insurance providers would be willing to help those who are considered malnourished by providing services that are paid for where the patient could go on a weekly basis (for a given timeframe) and become more educated on proper nutrition and guidelines to follow so they don’t run into health issues? Rather than a hospital setting, it could be a registered dietician that they could go see local to where they live. Have the program force these individuals to track their nutrition on a daily basis so they can actually see concrete numbers on paper or via software that shows how they are doing.

Funded by Abbott Nutrition

An Abbott spokesperson mentioned, “Multiple hospital systems in the US and outside the US have implemented (or started to implement) similar nutrition programs. The intent was always to design a program that different hospitals and healthcare systems could easily adapt and implement across the globe due to its simplicity and the significant impact it could have on patients’ health while reducing financial burden.”

I’m not dumb to think that Abbott Nutrition doesn’t have a stake in this study. They helped fund it, and oh by the way, they also have products and supplements that can be used by hospitals in these nutrition programs. So, for them, it’s a great way to showcase the products they sell and get them into hospital settings where the amount of revenue they can generate is insane (just think about how many people are in hospitals each and every day).

Not to downplay the initiative, as I feel they indeed want to help people, it’s just tough seeing through research and studies funded by companies who are mutually invested in the study to help their own business grow.

Sources:

1.) Daniells, Stephen. “Nutrition Program Could Save Hospitals up to $3,800 per Patient.” NutraIngredients-USA.com, 17 Aug. 2017.

2.) Sulo, S., et al. “Budget Impact of a Comprehensive Nutrition-Focused Quality Improvement Program for Malnourished Hospitalized Patients.” American Health & Drug Benefits. Vol 10, No 5. July 2017.

 

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