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Food, Nutrition, and Reducing Readmissions

Efforts to reduce readmissions have targeted virtually every element of the patient experience from in-hospital communication to discharge services, records transmission to long-term care and skilled nursing facilities, and in-home support for medication adherence and care coordination. Recently, there’s been increasing focus on the non-medical drivers of readmissions – social determinants that effect day-to-day health and may prove to be significant drivers of hospital readmissions. We know that shelter and security are a huge part of recovery and remaining healthy after a readmission, but access to the appropriate food and nutrition also has enormous impacts on a patient’s health post-discharge.

In January, the New York Times reported on a study from Health Affairs that found hospitalizations among low income diabetics increased dramatically towards the end of the month, presumably as money and food assistance were running low. As the resources to procure the proper nutrition dwindled, people were going without food or making affordable food choices that fit in their budget, but harmed their health. With many conditions – diabetes, heart failure, hypertension, etc. – what to eat is as important as having enough to eat.

In March, another study came out that definitively linked lack of adequate or appropriate nutrition with increased readmission rates among seniors. Both of these studies underscore the importance of ensuring that patients have access to enough food to fuel their recovery as well as the right kinds of food to keep them healthy.

Many health systems are recognizing this problem as well and are working on ways to improve food access for patients once they leave the hospital. Some systems are integrating basic questions into the hospitalizations intake process to find out about patient’s food security and enroll them in assistance programs if needed. A system in Ohio is the main supporter of a new supermarket being built in a local food desert. Here in Colorado, some doctors are using the services of food banks like Project Angel Heart to make sure that low income patients have access to appropriate nutrition for their condition as they recover. In the April newsletter for Healthy Transitions Colorado, we highlighted the critical role that food and nutrition play in reducing readmissions and heard from Project Angel Heart about their role in securing food access for patients leaving the hospital.

About the Author: Kristin Paulson is CIVHC's Senior Manager of Policy and Initiatives. Contact her at kpaulson@civhc.org.

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