We live in a country with some of the world’s most advanced medical treatments. But there’s a key element missing from the treatment plans of many people living with chronic disease. And it’s something far simpler than you might think. It’s food.

Going home

Every day, thousands of people with conditions like congestive heart failure and diabetes are discharged from local hospitals. Some head home with a caregiver who has been briefed on their loved ones’ dietary requirements and who’s capable of making meals that fit within guidelines.

But often, our ailing neighbors return to an empty house. With an empty refrigerator. And no energy to shop or cook. Even people with complex dietary needs, like those whose kidney disease requires a diet low in sodium, phosphorous, and potassium, often receive little guidance on what to eat.

Weighing costs

Food, when combined with medical treatment, truly is medicine.

The economics of illness can make this situation even worse. One in three people living with a chronic disease report having to choose between buying food or medications, because they simply can’t afford both.

What would happen if food was prioritized in patient treatment plans? Or if patients unable to cook for themselves were prescribed medically tailored meals designed to meet their specific needs?

Research suggests we’d see a decline in costly hospital readmissions and, with that, a reduction in overall health care expenses. A day’s worth of medically tailored meals costs less than $30, while the daily cost of a hospital stay is more than $2,200.

Forward-thinking solutions

Health care and insurance providers are beginning to see the light. Many hospitals are piloting meal delivery programs for high-risk, discharged patients, and more research is being done to prove medically tailored meals can reduce costs while improving health.

In addition, a growing number of organizations, like Project Angel Heart in Denver, offer medically tailored meals to people in need. In the next decade, we expect to see this movement expand, with insurance providers covering the cost of prescribed meals to reduce long-term health care costs.

Food, when combined with medical treatment, truly is medicine. In the future, let’s get it to the people who need it most.