The cost of malnutrition: Nutrition program savings could add up to US$3,800 per patient

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11 Aug 2017 --- The cost of poor nutrition has been laid bare by research published in the American Health & Drug Benefits journal and supported by healthcare company Abbott. The research shows that when not-for-profit healthcare system Advocate Health Care implemented a nutrition care program at four of its Chicago area hospitals in the US, cost savings hit more than US$4.8 million due to shorter hospital stays and lower readmission rates.

“Value-based care means looking comprehensively at patient care to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement,” says Lee Sacks, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Advocate Health Care. “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.”

In 2014, Advocate Health Care started two models of a nutrition care program for patients at-risk of malnutrition, and the results from this study – published in December 2016 – found that doing so reduced 30-day readmission rates by 27 percent and the average hospital stay by nearly two days. To evaluate the cost savings of this program, researchers used a web-based budget impact model to determine the potential cost savings from the avoided readmissions and reduced time in the hospital.

Compared to the hospitals’ previous readmission rates and patients’ average length of stay, researchers found that optimizing nutrition care in the four hospitals resulted in roughly US$3,800 of cost savings per patient treated for malnutrition.

Dealing with malnutrition is now a growing concern, as it has been found that one in three people enter the hospital malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. Decades of research have proven that when patients are poorly nourished, it can impact their recovery, including a higher risk of complications – such as pressure ulcers, infections and falls – and more frequent readmissions.

Studies also show that poor nutrition can cause increased costs of care and longer hospital stays, with the average hospital stay costing nearly US$2,000 per day. As a result, different hospitals and health care systems are looking at the value of nutrition to improve care and help patients get back to living healthier lives.

“This research confirms that implementing nutrition-focused quality improvement programs, like the ones at Advocate Health Care, can help patients recover from their hospitalization faster while also removing some of the burden of financial pressures placed on health systems today,” says Suela Sulo, Ph.D., a health outcomes researcher at Abbott and lead author of the cost impact study. “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.”

The benefits of nutrition on healthcare costs are not only being explored in the US, but also in Europe. A report by Frost & Sullivan, commissioned by Food Supplements Europe, found earlier this year that calcium and vitamin D food supplements could lead to big savings. The report put the total avoidable osteoporosis-related costs per year at €3.96 billion (US$4.66 billion). There is also mounting evidence that billions of euros worth of healthcare costs associated with cardiovascular disease could be avoided with more widespread food supplementation among target publications across the EU.

By Paul Creasy

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