Study: Meal delivery programs may cut overall healthcare costs Daisy-Daisy/iStock/Thinkstock

Study: Meal delivery programs may cut overall healthcare costs

Research showed fewer emergency department visits, fewer inpatient admissions and lower medical spending are possible benefits from initiatives that bring prepared food to nutritionally vulnerable patients.

Meal delivery programs that target discharged and out-patients have been gaining traction recently though some hospitals had deployed such initiatives years ago.

Now, a new study just published in the journal Health Affairs adds some research weight to arguments for such programs by providing a link between home meal delivery initiatives and reductions in emergency department visits, inpatient admissions and overall medical spending.

The study measured the impact of two types of meal programs on adults who were eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid and who faced difficulties in securing healthy food and/or preparing meals for themselves. One group of these subjects received five days' worth of lunches, dinners and snacks tailored to their individual medical needs that were delivered once a week, while a second group received daily deliveries of more generic but still healthy lunches and dinners that are similar to those provided by Meals on Wheels programs.

Followed over a period of 18 months, the healthcare usage of each group was compared to that of comparison groups with similar health and income challenges but who fended for themselves for their meals.

Among the results: Those who got the medically tailored meals had 70 percent fewer emergency department visits and had less than half as many hospital admissions, while even those who got the less customized meal delivery service still showed improvements, with 44 percent fewer emergency department visits and 12 percent fewer hospital admissions.

As for bottom-line results, the study found that even providing meals free of charge could net a savings in overall healthcare costs of at least $10 per person per month while a program that targeted meals to specific individual medical needs could save over $200 a month per person.

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