Instacart reaches deal with Boston Children's to help deliver nutritious meals to patients

Grocery delivery technology company Instacart announced several new tools for providers to get food to patients, becoming the latest tech company to explore options to address food insecurity. 

Instacart announced Friday it will offer a suite of digital tools to Boston Children’s Hospital to enable tailored nutrition deliveries to patients. 

“We know that access to nutritious foods can deliver healthier outcomes, but a number of challenges have prevented healthcare providers from effectively adopting food as medicine programs at scale,” said Sarah Mastrorocco, vice president and general manager of Instacart Health, in a statement. 

One of the tools offered by Instacart includes Fresh Funds, which are essentially stipends that enable patients to directly purchase certain foods from Instacart. The provider would make a selection of recommended items or specific ingredients for medically tailored meal plans. 

“With Fresh Funds, patients can select the foods that best fit their personal tastes and dietary needs and order directly from Instacart grocery retailers using their stipend,” the company said. 

A patient can consent with Instacart to share their purchase history with their provider to better understand eating habits. Another tool is called Care Carts, where a provider can send a custom grocery delivery directly to a patient. 

“This technology can also give providers tools to measure program effectiveness and identify where nutritious foods can make the greatest impact in health,” Instacart said. 

Other tools include shoppable recipes, virtual storefronts and digital lists a provider can build and share with patients who can then shop for the products on the Instacart app. 

Instacart did not return a request for comment as of press time on the program, including the cost to Boston Children’s Hospital for the Fresh Funds. The company did not return questions on whether it plans to expand the efforts to get payers involved. 

Instacart also announced Friday four new studies with leading academic institutions and health systems including Mount Sinai Hospital; the University of Kentucky; the University at Buffalo; and the Stanford Cancer Institute, Food for Health Equity Lab at Stanford Medicine, and the University of California, San Francisco's Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. The studies will examine the impact of nutrition security interventions and food-as-medicine programs on different patient groups, including patients who live in low-income and food-insecure households, the company said.

Instacart is the latest food delivery service getting involved in the healthcare space. 

Several startups have popped up in recent years aimed at combating food insecurity, including the service FarmboxRx, which partners with Medicaid and Medicare Advantage (MA) plans to enable beneficiaries to get healthy food. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has expanded the benefits that MA plans can offer, including new benefits for food insecurity. The number of MA plans that offer such benefits has increased in recent years. 

Other parts of the federal government have also turned to such programs. The startup About Fresh inked a partnership with the Veterans Health Administration to create a demonstration project promoting using healthy food for improving veteran health. 

The White House held a conference on nutrition, hunger and health back in September, where food as medicine programs were discussed.