Study emphasizes need for prioritizing nutrition care for home health patients

New research from Advocate Health Care and Abbott found that prioritizing nutrition care for home health patients at risk for malnutrition had a dramatic impact on helping keep them out of the hospital - resulting in millions of dollars in healthcare cost savings. Nearly 5 million Americans annually rely on home healthcare to recover from an illness, injury or hospitalization. While healthcare providers are constantly striving to improve patients' health and minimize hospitalizations, nutrition is often not top of mind, yet it plays a critical role in helping adults bounce back and resume their normal routine.

In the first-of-its-kind study, published today in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, more than 1,500 home health patients were followed for 90 days. The study found that when patients at risk for malnutrition received a comprehensive nutrition care program, including nutrition drinks, to aid in their recovery:

  • Risk of being hospitalized was significantly reduced by 24% in the first 30 days, nearly 23% after 60 days, and 18% after 90 days.
  • Healthcare costs were reduced by more than $2.3 million or about $1,500 per patient at risk for malnutrition treated over the course of 90 days.

Our goal as a home healthcare provider is to help patients get back on their feet as quickly as possible and to keep them out of the hospital. While the primary reason people come to home health isn't because they're malnourished or at risk, we have found that when we do pay attention to their nutrition care, it helps promote their strength and prevents them from going back to the hospital, which ultimately reduces healthcare costs.''

Katie Riley, R.N., Vice President, Post Acute Chief Nursing Officer for Advocate Aurora Health and the Lead Study Author

A recipe for recovery

As many as 1 in 3 home health patients are at risk of malnutrition, which can impact their recovery or cause further health issues. But malnutrition often goes unrecognized as it can be invisible to the eye and can occur in both underweight and overweight individuals. Therefore, more healthcare systems are starting to focus efforts on the identification and management of malnourished or at-risk patients through regular monitoring and follow up.

''It's clear that nutrition can be a simple, cost-effective tool to improve patient outcomes,'' said Suela Sulo, Ph.D., health outcomes researcher at Abbott and a study author.

''Healthcare systems are driven to improve patient care while reducing costs. Our research shows that prioritizing nutrition across different settings of care - or from hospital to home - can significantly cut costs while improving patients' health.''

While home health often helps jumpstart the road to recovery, it's even more effective when patients are given the necessary nutrition education and tools to take their health by the reins, even after they stop receiving visits from clinicians.

''Educating people on the benefits of proper nutritional care can empower them to continue thinking about their nutrition and drinking their supplements,'' said Gretchen VanDerBosch, R.D., a lead registered dietitian at Advocate Health Care and a study author. ''By maintaining proper nutrition, patients have greater strength, heal faster, have fewer falls and reduced readmissions.''

Source:
Journal reference:

Riley, R N. et al. (2019) Reducing Hospitalizations and Costs: A Home Health Nutrition‐Focused Quality Improvement Program. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. doi.org/10.1002/jpen.1606

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