Healthcare News & Insights

Study: Food insecurity may affect readmissions

To get a better handle on curbing readmissions, hospitals need to take a closer look at some of the factors that may be contributing to patients’ regular visits. A new study found a link between patients who experience multiple hospital stays and their access to food. 

ThinkstockPhotos-495918521The study, which was conducted by researchers from the Center for Urban Health Policy and Research in Philadelphia and the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research in Lawrenceville, NJ, surveyed adults who had at least three hospitalizations over a 12-month period about the food they ate.

Most participants were admitted to the hospital five or more times during the study period, and they had six or more chronic conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, chronic kidney disease and coronary artery disease.

Issues with food access

Researchers asked patients about how often they ate regular meals. They used the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) criteria for food insecurity, where participants were classified as food insecure if they agreed with at least three of the following seven questions and statements:

  • “The food that [I/we] bought just didn’t last, and [I/we] didn’t have money to get more.”
  • “[I/we] couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals.”
  • Did you or other adults in your household ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • Did you ever eat less than you felt you should because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • Were you ever hungry, but didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • Did you or other adults in your family ever not eat for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • How true is this statement to you: “[I/We] worried whether [my/our] food would run out before [I/we] got money to buy more.”

If patients answered affirmatively to either one or two of the statements, researchers considered them “marginally food secure.”

Overall, 30% of participants surveyed were food insecure, and an additional 25% were marginally food secure.

That means that it’s crucial for hospitals to evaluate the food security of patients who have multiple hospital readmissions. Asking them some of the questions used by the USDA can help providers determine whether patients might benefit from referrals to community resources such as food banks or pantries.

While some of the patients surveyed were aware of food pantries and church programs that distributed food in their area, most didn’t know about all their options. More than half of them were interested in receiving a list of places where they could go to receive free food.

Nutrition affects recovery

Helping patients get regular access to more nutritious foods could positively affect their recovery, especially since many chronic conditions that contribute to multiple hospital admissions (such as diabetes and heart disease) are extremely sensitive to a person’s dietary intake. And many patients weren’t aware of how their food choices affected their illnesses.

Plus, value-based payments make this kind of effort more important to hospitals’ bottom lines, since facilities will soon be financially responsible for a patient’s health outcomes over an entire episode of care through bundled payments.

As researchers noted in the study, “Interventions that educate and connect patients with unmet food needs to community resources such as food banks and home delivery programs can help to engage patients in their own health and well-being. Communication with patients about whether they have enough and appropriate food for their health conditions is an important starting point.”

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