WASHINGTON - When people are recovering from an illness or injury, they often don't think of nutrition, but it may be key to getting their health back.
When Monika McComb returned home from the hospital, she didn't think about nutrition as being essential for a full recovery.
“I was really, really weak. I could hardly even walk with a cane,” McComb said.
McComb didn't associate her weakness with malnutrition until she was evaluated; but, researchers from Advocate Health Care and Abbott were conducting a study to evaluate the role nutrition plays in reducing hospital admissions.
Suela Sulo, a researcher from Abbott, says malnutrition is rarely taken into account in dealing with patients who are in recovery.
"Malnutrition is invisible to the eye, and therefore it remains under diagnosed and underrated,” Sulo said.
McComb enrolled in a home health care program and was given a detailed nutrition plan.
Most Americans have access to food, but one in three patients in home health care is malnourished or has some nutritional deficiency that puts his or her health -- and recovery -- at risk. Katie Riley is the chief nursing officer with Advocate Aurora Health.
"Nutrition is not the primary reason why patients usually come to home health; however, it is important for us to pay attention to the nutrition to promote their strength and get them recovered quicker,” Riley said.
Abbot funded a study in partnership with Advocate Health Care to find a way to reduce hospitalizations, cut medical costs and promote patients' health.
Suela Sulo said the researchers found that when patients on home health care received education about nutrition along with nutritional drinks, they were nearly 20 percent less likely to be hospitalized or re-hospitalized in the 90 days after an injury or illness.
“Through identifying the patients with malnutrition risk, feeding them with the right nutritional drinks, you are increasing their chances of recovering faster, not going back to the hospital, or not going to the hospital in the first place.”
One of the study's goals was to create a program that patients could follow on their own, one reason they were educated about nutrition. Gretchen VanDerBosch says anyone can become malnourished and not realize it. She says educating patients about nutrition is so important.
“Because they’re educated, they actually continue their supplements and start it back up, and their outcome is so much improved, they have more strength, they heal quicker, have fewer falls, they have less readmissions,” VanDerBosch said.
The researchers say they hope other health care programs and hospitals can use the study to help other patients as well.
As for Monika McComb, she says she feels stronger and has more energy than she had at the start of the program. She credits support from the home health nurse and the focus on nutrition for her improved health.