Supplements a simple fix for improved hospital patient care, costs

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A simple fix for improved health, and it carries a bonus of saving healthcare costs. It’s all part of a local study – linking malnutrition and hospitalization.

A healthy person’s muscle is thick and lean.

Gretchen Van Der Bosch, Advocate Health Care senior clinical dietician: “But if you take that 20 year old and put them in bed for a month, their muscle goes from looking like this to looking like this.”

It shrinks and fills with fat at a rapid rate. For a 40 year old it takes about 10 days. In a 60 year old … just three.

Gretchen Van Der Bosch: “You don’t have the protein and the building blocks in your diet to build healthy new tissue and heal wounds. When you are not nourished, you’re prone to falls, complications, infections, wounds, a myriad of problems.”

And that means patients may struggle to recover and end up coming back to the hospital for more care. When that happens the hospital is fined … adding to the already astronomical cost of health care.

Advocate Health Care dietitian Gretchen Van Der Bosch had an idea -- screen patients for malnourishment as soon as they are admitted. If they need a boost, start supplements immediately … and keep them coming. She and her colleagues tested the theory in more than 1200 patients during the course of a six-month study.

Gretchen Van Der Bosch: “One third to one half of your patients are malnourished at the admission and then while they are here you’ll have a third or more of those deteriorate even further. And your well patients who come in will deteriorate as well from testing and surgeries.”

Gretchen Van Der Bosch: “You have to screen the patients as they come in and start their treatment the minute they walk in the door and carry it through to their discharge and after their discharge.”

A few simple questions get the process rolling.

Gretchen Van Der Bosch: “Would you say you have a good appetite?”

The protein and calorie-filled supplements arrive twice a day on the patient’s tray in addition to their regular meals. A simple add on with high impact.

Gretchen Van Der Bosch: “We found that you could effectively decrease the length of stay by about two days, that patients had decreased infections and complications, increase in quality of life and less re-admissions, which is huge.”

During the course of the study re-admission rates fell by 27 percent. Given the impressive results, Advocate plans to roll out the program system wide in the New Year.