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Study Links Nutrition To Shorter Hospital Stays

A new study of more than 1,200 malnourished patients found that improving nutrition care in the hospital helped reduce readmissions and length of stay.

Malnourished Woman in the hospital
Feb 6 2017

If you are in the hospital, could your nutrition status be a roadblock getting home sooner? A new study suggests so.

Today, 1 in 3 people globally are malnourished when they enter the hospital. While malnutrition alone will not typically send a patient to the hospital, this condition can have a big impact to a person’s health: longer hospital stays, as well as increase chances of complications and of being readmitted.

To combat this growing problem, a registered dietitian at a hospital in Chicago had a simple idea: what would happen if we improved patients’ nutritional status? 

Nutrition’s Link to Better Health

The findings, published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, found a link between improved nutrition care and better health outcomes for malnourished adults.

The study followed more than 1,200 adults during their stay at one of four Advocate Health Care hospitals. The hospitals implemented two versions (either basic or enhanced) of a new nutrition program that required care teams to screen patients for malnutrition using a tool on the hospitals’ electronic medical records system. 

If the patient was malnourished or at-risk of malnutrition, the care team provided nutrition treatment (i.e., an oral nutrition supplement) and support. For hospitals using the enhanced program, malnourished patients received the treatment within 24 hours of being admitted, as well as coupons and education materials on nutrition when they left the hospital. 

Diagnosing Malnutrition Early is Key

Researchers from Advocate and Abbott found that when patients are screened early for malnutrition and provided nutrition treatment, they can recover faster. Specifically, when compared to the hospitals’ original readmission rates and average length of stay for malnourished patients, the nutrition programs, on average, resulted in:

  • Reduced risk of patient readmissions from 22.1 percent to 16.1 percent (27 percent reduction).

  • Shortened patient’s length of stay from 7.2 days to 5.4 days (25 percent reduction).

"Many of the patients in the study were older adults with chronic illnesses," said Suela Sulo, PhD, a health outcomes researcher at Abbott and co-author of the study. "By prioritizing nutrition in the hospital, health care providers can help ensure they are giving their patients the best chances of recovering, and getting them back to living a healthy life."

Enlisting Caregivers in Nutrition Care

The take away from the study is that more hospitals can ensure they are helping their patients receive the best nutritional care by:

  • Adding formalized processes for screening malnutrition using a validated tool.

  • Implementing treatment immediately if someone is considered at-risk of malnutrition.

  • Having a conversation with a patient or their caregiver to ensure a proper nutrition plan is in place after being discharged.

If you or a loved one is in the hospital, make sure you understand the signs and symptoms of malnutrition

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