Malnutrition has always been common in healthcare facilities and can often go unnoticed, especially during the pandemic. As hospitals recover from the financial impact of COVID-19, it’s easy to overlook the prevalence of malnutrition in hospitalized patients.
What is Malnutrition?
According to the World Health Organization, “malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.”
Research shows that 20-50% of patients in the acute care setting are malnourished.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality explains that causes of malnutrition can vary and are often “associated with [an] inadequate intake of protein and other nutrients that can lead to nutritional imbalances, severe weight loss, muscle wasting and loss of subcutaneous fat. Factors such as advanced age, immobilization, and low income can increase the risk of malnutrition.”
Malnutrition in hospitalized patients leads to:
• Increased infection rates
• Post-op complications
• Fall risk and functional status decline
• Slow wound healing
• Increased mortality
• Increased length of stay by 4-6 days
• 54% more likely to be readmitted within 30 days
How does overlooking malnutrition impact healthcare facilities?
The burden of cost related to malnutrition in the United States totals nearly $157 billion. The hospital costs for a patient with malnutrition are twice that of a well-nourished patient with the same condition.
Not to mention, the readmission cost averages 26%-34% higher for the patient with malnutrition in comparison to the well-nourished patient.
This, combined with the longer length of stay and higher readmission rates, paints the picture of what readmission of malnourished patients actually costs.
How can Registered Dietitians help?
RDs are instrumental in malnourished patient care. A few ways are:
Educating physicians and identifying malnutrition early is vital in improving the quality of care of patients. This decreases the length of stay in your hospital and prevents readmission.
RDs use a validated malnutrition screening tool to assess the nutritional status of all patients admitted into the hospital.
RDs work closely with the culinary team to ensure malnourished patients receive individual food preferences and tolerances to improve intake meals and offer snacks or supplements to meet nutritional needs.
Providing clinical teams with training, support, and resources to better care for malnourished patients is how RDs help ensure these diagnoses don’t go unnoticed.
In turn, accurate diagnosis and coding will allow hospitals to receive a reimbursement for the resources required to care for the specific needs of malnourished patients.
By prioritizing care of malnourished patients, RDs can improve the patient outcomes, lower readmission rates, and better allocate healthcare facilities time and resources.