In 1902, Thomas Edison Predicted: “The future doctor will not give any medicine, but will be interested in the care of the human frame to his patients, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”
That future is now. But instead of focusing on preventing diseases, modern medicine has evolved to treat symptoms.
In the last century, the healthcare industry was transformed by dramatic advances in science and technology. During that trip, the American diet has floated like a pendulum, from simple, un-processed nutrition of our pre-industrial days to dependencies influenced by high-processed, high-fat, sugar. As generations of fast food increased, health care costs soared and treatments were developed to address dietary diseases. Today, the pendulum is swinging back. Fresh food is fashionable and there is an increasing appetite to eat well.
This is an ideal time for hospitals and health centers to take advantage of healthy food trends to bring down the cost of healthcare. In fact, A 2013 Central Scientific Association Report If Americans recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables to the USDA, the cost of treating heart disease could decline by $ 17 billion per year.
As we find ourselves facing the role of hospitals in our future, we should once again consider Edison’s intelligence and be thankful that in 2015 more and more hospitals are finding that fresh food is good medicine and Good business
Nutrition and food are absolutely critical to the treatment process and one of the most efficient contributors to reduced hospitalization. In our work with hospitals across the country, we are finding the most effective education process involving both patients and health care providers. Registered dietitians and nutritionists are making changes to interactions with nurses and physicians, allowing patients not to discuss what they can eat while in hospital and, importantly, when they are discharged.
A truly patient-centered care model empowers patients to make their own menu selections and provides personalized nutrition education. At Griffin Hospital, A. Planetary Designated Hospital In Derby, Connecticut, we created an extensive list of specific physicians who create confusion for prescribing physicians and patients alike. Restrictive heart-healthy diets were being ordered for more than 25 percent of the time, and in many cases were unnecessary. But when physicians were educated about the nutritional content of standard fresh food menus in relation to the American Heart Association Heart Healthy Dietary Guidelines, they agreed to liberalize sodium levels, saturated fat, and caffeine. Results: Strong positive trends in patient satisfaction numbers and increased patient education to reduce hospital goals.
It is important to teach patients that eating healthy and tasting delicious food is actually together when they are in the hospital. It is helpful in combating both obesity and malnutrition, as one-third of hospitalized patients are malnourished. Describing a tasty, healthy diet during a hospital stay plays a key role in the speed of future discharge and better health.
Population health halo effect
Hospitals are also becoming an important delivery system to improve population health. The Affordable Care Act has reduced the need for hospitals to provide concessional care and raise community expectations with community health needs assessments – creating an opportunity to focus on initiatives that promote prevention.
Currently Americans only eat half the amount of fruits and vegetables recommended by federal dietary guidelines. Many low-income people want to make healthy food choices for themselves and their families but face challenges of accessibility. In Trenton, New Jersey, for example, St. Francis Medical Center is located in a food desert with limited access to grocery stores. Our Patient Experience Manager visited local small markets and boudgas, who accepted EBT cards and created a full-week menu of healthy, fresh food for a family of four, costing less than $ 100. She created recipes with ingredients and hospital staff now use the equipment for community outreach and deliver it to patients upon discharge.
Hospitals across the country are taking renewed interest in improving public health by supporting local food systems. At Metro Health Hospital in Michigan, a streamlined farm-to-hospital program sources products from within 250 miles of the hospital for kitchens and weekly farmers’ markets. The cooks built a large on-site community garden and worked with a team of volunteers and students from the local YMCA to manage the planting, growth and harvest of the garden.
The opportunities are endless to improve community access to more healthy foods and reduce long-term health expenditure from diet-related illness while strengthening the local economy.
Addressing outpatient trends with new opportunities
As more healthcare delivery is being transferred to the outpatient setting, hospital administrators are looking at new ways to increase revenue. Many are upgrading their feeding operations to increase access beyond communities serving patients and their families. To be successful, the value and quality of the dining experience must be available or greater than in community restaurants.
Many hospital food directors today promote their café weekly specials and catering services to local businesses and community groups and are operating at peak capacity because the price is right and the food is fresh. Fauquier Health in Virginia hosts a popular Senior Supper Club every Tuesday and Thursday, providing affordable, tasty multi-course food and nutrition education. Baptist Isle Hospital in South Carolina reopened its café just after a four-month renovation to the delight of the weekly Sunday churchgoers. Providing freshly prepared foods to the public builds strong community connections, supporting long and short term growth opportunities.
The overall health of our population depends on our healthcare delivery systems adopting operating principles that distinguish nutritionists, including celarian and dietician. To develop and embrace this coordinated approach to hospital systems, paradigm shift must begin with leadership – not because of the ACA mandate, but because it is the right thing to do.
Richard B. Schenkel is the founder and CEO of Unidin Corporation.