The Fight Against Malnutrition: Bringing the Value of Nutrition to Healthcare

The Fight Against Malnutrition: Bringing the Value of Nutrition to Healthcare

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There is an urgent need to institute policies and practices to address malnutrition at a systemic level 

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APR. 23, 2021   2 MIN. READ

By: Suela Sulo, PhD, MS, a health outcomes researcher who leads the Health Economics, Outcomes Research, and Policy Work for Abbott’s global nutrition research and development. 

The healthcare system is comprised of several key stakeholders including healthcare providers, payers and patients. And while they may value aspects of care differently, there are two considerations that consistently rise to the top for these groups across the board: health outcomes and cost. Providers, patients and payers are all able to find common ground when an intervention or treatment improves patient health at a reasonable cost, while in turn reducing overall cost of care at both the patient and healthcare system level.

The Burden of Malnutrition

Malnutrition can have a harmful impact on health, but many may not realize that it’s also incredibly costly to patients and the larger healthcare system alike. The cost of disease-associated malnutrition in the United States has been estimated as more than $147 billion per year, with $15.5 billion attributed directly to treatment costs. But hospitals and health systems aren’t the only ones bearing the burden – people who are hospitalized and found to be malnourished may incur hospital costs nearly twice as high as those who are adequately nourished.1

An article recently published in Nutrition and Dietary Supplements suggests that simple and comprehensive nutrition care can clearly support hospital patients and help them get the nutrients they need, which in turn improves their overall health, strengthens the quality of care, and reduces healthcare resource use – and thus healthcare costs.1 In fact, it’s estimated that every dollar spent on nutrition intervention in a hospital setting can result in five to 99 times that amount in savings on subsequent medical care. Specifically, the use of specialized and disease-specific oral nutritional supplements by hospitalized patients with malnutrition has led to an average cost savings of 12%, while also reducing the number of medical complications and shortening the length of hospital stays.1  

Nutrition Interventions in Action: From Policy to Practice

Implementing processes that prioritize nutrition – especially in the hospital – can effectively lead to better patient outcomes, better healthcare system performance, and greater cost savings. Once a patient is admitted to the hospital, there are some simple actions that should be taken to help address malnutrition and alleviate its burden:

  •  Screen patients for malnutrition risk
  • Diagnose patients who are malnourished
  • Implement personalized nutrition interventions quickly and monitor for changes
  • Communicate nutrition plans and next steps to caregivers
  • Develop a post-discharge nutrition plan for the patient

While managing costs is important to healthcare providers, the health of patients and the quality of care is even more important. To bring the value of nutrition to healthcare, healthcare authorities and policymakers should develop effective policies that can pave the way for comprehensive malnutrition strategies and new practices to be put into place. 

[1] Sulo S, et al. Nutrition and Dietary Supplements. 2020;12.139-146.