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Advocate Health Care hospital nutrition programs yield $4.8 million in savings, research shows

Roughly 1 in 3 people enter the hospital malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, increasing risk of complications and readmissions, Advocate says.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

New research confirms nutrition, or the lack of it, can have a big impact on important hospital metrics and the bottom line. Research published in the American Health & Drug Benefits journal and funded by Abbott showed more than $4.8 million in cost savings resulting from shorter hospital stays and lower readmission rates.

The research, A Comprehensive Nutrition-focused Quality Improvement Program Reduces 30-day Readmissions and Length of Stay in Hospitalized Patients was a multi-site, two-group, pre-post study to evaluate two nutrition Quality Improvement Programs at four Chicago-area Advocate Health Care hospitals. A total of 1,269 participants that were 18 years or older and at risk of malnutrition were enrolled between October 13, 2014 and April 2, 2015.

[Also: Financial losses, extended hospital stays abound thanks to drug-related complications]

Roughly 1 in 3 people enter the hospital malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, and a sizeable body of research shows when patients are poorly nourished, it can negatively affect their recovery and increase their risk for things like pressure ulcers, infections falls and more readmissions, Advocate and Abbott said in a statement. They also said poor nutrition can lead to higher costs of care and longer hospital stays, with the average hospital stay costing nearly $2,000 per day. 

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Results from the nutrition programs showed a reduction in 30-day readmission rates of 27 percent, and the average hospital stay shortened by nearly two days.

[Also: Quality improvement programs reduce readmissions, but hospitals may not see huge savings, say researchers]

Researchers used a web-based budget impact model to assess the potential cost savings from the avoided readmissions and reduced stays and found that optimizing nutrition care in the four hospitals yielded about $3,800 cost savings per patient treated for malnutrition.

"Value-based care means looking comprehensively at patient care to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement," said 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."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn