With a total annual cost of disease-associated malnutrition in the U.S. totaling more than $147 billion, it is perhaps perplexing and troubling that nutrition still remains poorly misunderstood by healthcare providers, administrators and payers alike. But mistaken or not, over the past few years, one thing is certain: Reducing hospital readmissions is at the forefront of healthcare organizations across the country.
In 2012, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) began penalizing hospitals with high readmission rates, forcing chief physicians and staff to take a closer look at their programs, initiatives, and resources. And it was nutrition that proved the most valuable - and easily accessible - as more and more information pointed to poor nutrition as a major cause in slower healing, increased risk of complications, longer hospital stays and higher readmission rates, especially in older patients. Fortunately, the release of this new information brought the focus back to the education and implementation of maintaining patient health through nutritional meals, and, as a result, initiated further research revealing just how strongly linked it actually is.
One study conducted in 2017 by Project HOPE, The People to People Health Foundation, Inc., sought to determine the impact of better nutrition through two types of home-delivered meal interventions on healthcare use and spending, hypothesizing that the interventions would reduce participants’ emergency department (ED) visits and inpatient admissions. The results spoke volumes:
- Individuals participating in either medically-tailored meal interventions or a non-tailored food intervention for at least six months, were associated with significant reductions in ED visits, compared with visits among similar participants who did not receive an intervention
- Individuals who received medically-tailored meals had a 40% decrease in monthly medical spending per person
- Non-tailored meals (suitable for cardiac patients and diabetics) had a 13% reduction in monthly medical spending
- A significant reduction occurred in ER visits, inpatient visits, and emergency transportation for the home-delivered meal recipients
Another study conducted by American Health & Drug Benefits aimed to assess the potential cost savings associated with decreased 30-day readmissions and hospital length of stay in malnourished patients – all conducted through a nutrition-focused quality improvement program that included tailored meals. Again, the results told a compelling story:
- The total cost-savings from reduced 30-day readmissions and hospital stays associated with nutrition intervention was greater than $4.8 million - with savings greater than $3,800 per patient treated for malnutrition
- The care of hospitalized malnourished patients ended up costing twice as much as their well-nourished counterparts, primarily because patients suffering from malnutrition have prolonged hospitalizations and increased readmission rates
While more research is needed to better understand the cost-effectiveness of similar nutrition-focused quality improvement programs, it is becoming abundantly clear that proper inpatient nutrition care, although frequently ignored by many, is clinically and economically significant.
However, since nutrition is often an issue before hospitalization, tapping into new resources and support is critical in ensuring not just a better quality of life, but a longer life. To learn more about preventing malnutrition, please download the resource below:
For more information on the advantages of healthy home-delivered meals and how GA Foods’ Sunmeadow® frozen or shelf-stable meals can support your benefits or health plan options, please contact us today.