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Interview

Medically Tailored Meals Help Lower Hospital, SNF Admissions


August 01, 2019

By Julie Gould

Seth Berkowitz, MD, MPH, general internist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, discusses why medically tailored meals can be a valuable intervention for older adults and highlights how these meals impact admission rates into skilled nursing facilities.

Tell us a little about yourself and your research interests.

I am a general internist and primary care doctor. My research interests include studying what impact the effects of health-related social needs, such as food insecurity, have on health and then testing interventions to address them. 

Can you highlight the importance of medically tailored meals for older adults?

I think in particular circumstances, medically-tailored meals can be a very valuable intervention for older adults. For individuals who need to follow a complex diet to optimize their health but have barriers to doing so (often from poverty, disability, and other factors), medically-tailored meals can really provide exactly what they need but would likely not otherwise have a chance to get. 

How do medically tailored meals impact admissions to skilled nursing facilities?

In our study, we found that receiving medically tailored meals was associated with fewer admissions to skilled nursing facilities. This was likely because they were also associated with fewer inpatient hospitalizations, which, of course, often precedes skilled nursing facility admission for many individuals. 

What are the challenges faced with medically tailored meals?

Currently, a key challenge is how to incorporate medically tailored meals into health care financing mechanisms. To do this well, we will need to learn more about their effectiveness, and comparative effectiveness, along with learning what are the most appropriate circumstances for their use, the duration of benefit, etc. 

How can long-term care staff improve patient care based on the findings of your study?

Since the medically-tailored meals program studied served individuals living in their homes, I am not sure that it is directly relevant to long-term care staff, but certainly if individuals are being discharged from long-term care, for some reason, making sure their nutritional needs can be met in their new setting is vitally important, and I could see medically tailored meals playing a role there.

Reference:

Berkowitz SA, Terranova J, Randall L, et al. Association Between Receipt of a Medically Tailored Meal Program and Health Care Use [published online April 22, 2019]. JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(6):786-793. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0198

 

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