A growing body of evidence suggests that malnutrition is a serious and often unrecognized problem among hospitalized patients. Malnourished patients are more likely to experience an increased length of stay, higher health care costs, more complications, and a greater chance of readmission and death.
In a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care, researchers looked to determine whether oral nutritional supplements, delivering both macronutrients and micronutrients in addition to normal food intake, would improve outcomes in hospitalized patients.
They used data gathered between 2000 and 2010 to examine the effect of oral nutritional supplements on hospital outcomes by comparing hospital stays where nutritional supplements were provided with similar hospital stays that did not provide supplements. A total of 1,160,088 total patients were analyzed (580,044 given oral supplements matched with 580,044 not given supplements). The length of hospital stay and cost of treatment were measured in addition to the probability of hospital readmission within 30 days.
The researchers found that patients that were provided with nutritional supplements had a 21% (2.3 days) reduction in the length of hospital stay which also resulted in a cost savings of $4,734. Supplementation also reduced the probability of patient readmission by 6.7%.
Consistent with results from previous randomized controlled trials, this study indicates that the use of oral nutritional supplements may lead to a significant reduction in the length of hospital stays, cost, and chances of readmission. And, given the prevalence of malnutrition among this population, nutritional supplementation would be a cost effective method of improving health outcomes while also reducing health care spending.
As a personal example my 85 year old mother fell and broke her leg. Since she still lived alone she stayed in the hospital’s long term nursing facility. After five weeks they did an x-ray of the break and found no bone growth. In my visits there when she ate her meals were nutritionally void. Breakfast may be oatmeal, coffee, maybe a little fruit. Lunch might be a bowl of soup, small salad, and a sandwich, dinner wasn’t much better than lunch. She had few nutrient dense foods, and very few that had high calcium levels. I went against the doctors orders and snuck in a calcium supplement which also contained all the other nutrients necessary for bone health (magnesium, D, K, silicon, and boron). In the next 5 weeks her diet was unchanged, but upon the next xray she was fully healed and released back home. Had she received supplemental calcium and other nutrients upon admission, she would have cut her hospital stay in half.
Source: Tomas J Phillipson et al. Impact of Oral Nutritional Supplementation on Hospital Outcomes. Am J Manag Care. 2013;19(2):121-128