The Vital Role of Nutrition After a Hospital Discharge

Posted on Thursday, December 2, 2021

There’s no underestimating the importance of proper nutrition. Particularly after a hospital stay, nutritious food is vital to the healing process and can be a major factor in keeping loved ones from returning to the hospital. Yet research shows that half of the patients who enter the hospital are at risk for malnutrition or are malnourished, particularly older adults. Of these, only 8% are diagnosed as such during their hospital stay.

Malnutrition is a condition that develops when the body is deprived of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function. Malnutrition occurs in those who are either undernourished or overnourished. Undernutrition is characterized by a lack of nutrients and insufficient energy supply, whereas overnutrition is marked by excessive nutrient and energy intake and can result in obesity.

Many patients experience nutrition deterioration throughout their hospital stay—even those whose nutritional status is adequate upon admission. Not only are these patients at increased risk of complications during hospitalization, but they’re also at greater risk for adverse health events after discharge. Some of the poor outcomes associated with malnutrition include an increased risk of pressure ulcers, impaired wound healing, increased infection rate, muscle wasting, functional loss (resulting in more falls), and increased mortality.

Sadly, malnutrition often continues to go overlooked once patients leave the hospital. Not surprisingly, studies show malnourished adult inpatients have a 54% higher likelihood of hospital 30-day readmissions than those who are well-nourished.

The economic burden of hospital readmissions due to malnutrition is costly as well. A 2017 study by the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) found the average costs per readmission for patients with malnutrition were 26–34% higher ($16,900 to $17,900) for patients with malnutrition compared to those without malnutrition ($13,400).

Post-Discharge Nutrition Solutions

Individuals’ nutritional needs don’t stop once they’re discharged from the hospital. In fact, adequate food intake is critical for promoting continued recovery and independence. It is especially key for patients suffering from a chronic condition, which puts them at risk for malnutrition. Patients with chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, or heart disease may require a low sugar, fat, sodium, or cholesterol diet. Post-discharge meals are equally important to individuals who cannot prepare meals for themselves or whose caregivers don’t know how to fulfill their nutritional needs and those who are food insecure.

Fortunately, many health plans today support their members in the transition from hospital to home with a home-delivered meals benefit. Studies show home-delivered meals can increase both diet quality and nutrient intake.

A 2019 analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that providing home-delivered meals to chronically ill, Medicare fee-for-service members for seven days post-discharge could lead to 9,719 fewer hospital readmissions and savings of $1.57 per patient for every dollar spent on the program. That’s a net savings of $57.3 million.

The advantages of home-delivered meals following a hospital stay are clear. At Mom’s Meals®, we offer a Post-Discharge Care program designed to help health insurers, hospitals, health systems, accountable care organizations, skilled nursing facilities, and other health care organizations provide their members and patients expedited nutritional support at the start of their recovery—when time is of the essence—to support healing and reduce readmissions.

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