Healthcare News & Insights

Nutrition plays big role in patient outcomes

Nutrition is an essential part of patients’ recovery, and many hospitals are realizing it’s a good idea to work with patients to increase their knowledge of nutrition and access to healthy foods. New research shows providing better nutrition care directly improves patients’ outcomes after hospital stays. 

gettyimages-155395552Specifically, better nutrition programs were linked to shorter hospital visits and lower 30-day readmission rates.

According to a news release about the study, which was conducted by Advocate Health Care and Abbott, four Chicago hospitals implemented two versions of a nutrition care program for patients: a basic program and an enhanced one.

With both programs, care teams used the hospital’s electronic health records (EHR) system to evaluate patients’ risk for being malnourished as they were admitted to the hospital. Those who were at high-risk or who were malnourished received nutrition-related treatment and support during their hospital stays.

Participants chosen for the advanced program received immediate treatment after being evaluated at admission and throughout their hospital stay. In addition, after patients were discharged, they received follow-up calls about continuing their nutrition treatment.

The four hospitals followed the progress of over 1,200 adults who were found to be at risk of malnutrition during their hospital stay and participated in one of the nutrition programs. When reviewing the impact of the hospital nutrition programs, researchers found that patient readmissions for malnourished patients decreased by 27%, and length of stay went down by 25%.

Nutrition screening via EHR or another manual assessment tool may be common in many hospitals – but taking the additional steps to reach out and help patients improve their nutrition might not happen as often. Implementing a nutrition program in your hospital could help thousands of patients recover more quickly.

Going the extra mile

Some hospitals go even farther than educating patients about nutrition. They actually connect patients with resources to help them get nutritious food that meets their various medical and dietary needs.

Example: A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes the efforts of a prominent New York cancer hospital piloting a new program that designs special diets for patients, complete with home meal delivery.

NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center created the program in hopes that it’ll improve cancer patients’ recovery. Between treatments that cause nausea or difficulty swallowing, and other ailments that affect appetite (such as depression), it can be tough for cancer patients to meet the nutritional requirements they need to get well. That means they often become malnourished, which complicates their recovery.

The NYU program specifically targets the issues that keep cancer patients from eating and creates customized meals for them to make things easier. Participating patients will be compared with those who just receive the hospital’s standard nutritional counseling to see if this personalized approach is more effective in eliminating malnutrition and improving cancer patients’ health.

Looking at recovery more holistically will likely be a goal of most hospitals going forward, especially given the current emphasis on value-based care. With that in mind, it would be wise for facilities to create community partnerships with organizations that can help them better meet patients’ nutritional needs and decrease food insecurity, such as local churches or food banks.

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