Hospitals 'prescribe' food to patients who face food insecurity

Some hospitals have taken to "prescribing" food for patients who face food insecurity, according to U.S. News & World Report.

For example, Boston Medical Center's emergency department and 20 associated clinics screen all patients for signs of hunger and malnutrition, according to the article. When patients are in need of nutritional assistance, clinicians write them prescriptions for food to be filled at an on-site Preventative Food Pantry, or "food pharmacy."  

Each time a caregiver writes a food prescription, Latchman Hirallal, a registered dietetic technician, assembles each patient a bundle of culturally appropriate and nutritionally complete foods to take home, the article said. "We provide food for the whole family, not just the patient," he said, noting that patients can return twice a month as long as they are under the care of BMC providers. The pantry is staffed by volunteers and receives food through the Boston Food Bank.

A small but growing number of hospitals have similar programs, including healthcare providers in Arkansas and Ohio, where the Toledo-based nonprofit ProMedica hospital system treats food insecurity as a population health issue, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Recent Internal Revenue Service policy changes have created incentives for hospitals and healthcare to enhance their community benefit through programs like food pharmacies and other healthcare interventions aimed at improving outcomes longitudinally. Furthermore, food insecurity costs healthcare providers an estimated $160 billion per year nationally.

An array of health issues are complicated by food insecurity, including diabetes, HIV, depression, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Currently, some 48 million Americans live in food-insecure households, according to the article.

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