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Innovative Companies Pursue Food as Medicine


With the push towards health equity well underway, risk-bearing organizations look to methods that effectively keep patients healthier for longer. One area of such preventive measures includes leveraging food as medicine. Several innovative companies have programs underfoot to address the benefits of using food to support the health of their patient populations. 

Current Food Options for Health

Companies offer a variety of support to keep patients healthy and manage their comorbidities. For example, some have personalized nutrition plans to help with an array of conditions – including allergies, autoimmune issues, diabetes, and gastrointestinal issues. Such plans can address the patient’s goals and preferences as well as any dietary restrictions. In addition, tools exist to support this process, such as AI models that link dietary protocols to conditions and help patients determine if a given food supports their health. Further, some technologies link nutrition studies to these recommendations and potential recipes that fit the dietary goals.

Moreover, some groups leverage medically tailored meals to get food to patients who eat particular diets for chronic diseases. In addition to medically tailored meals, grocery support or diet education can empower patients to understand what they need to eat for their particular comorbidities and goals. Some companies offer food delivery in addition to clinical nutrition care.

Food Personalization Needed

With food, a one-size-fits-none model does not pave the way toward health equity. Take a diabetic patient who lives in the city. He may benefit from grocery delivery and recipe options that help stabilize blood sugar. In contrast, a dementia patient with cardiovascular disease living in a food swamp—with a plethora of fast food options and minimal healthy ones—may benefit more from medically tailored meal delivery so she does not have to remember what ingredients to add to a recipe or recall what she planned to make for dinner.

In practice, considering the social determinant of health (SDoH) risks facing each patient matter when selecting food as medicinal tools. By investing in options tailored to each patient, risk-bearing organizations can move the needle toward health equity for their patients.

Challenges of SDoH Identification

However, flagging what SDoH risks each patient faces can prove daunting to risk-bearing organizations. With already overtaxed providers, the burden of additional screening for and flagging of SDoH can seem prohibitive. To reap the benefits of screening for SDoH without overburdening organizations, some groups turn to innovative tools. For example, companies can leverage technology that seamlessly integrates with their electronic health records. This type of tool can not only highlight the specific SDoH risk factors of a given patient, but can also offer targeted intervention recommendations for that patient.

Equipped with technology that flags SDoH, risk-bearing organizations have a key part of the support needed to address food as medicine for their patient populations. Such information empowers care managers to appropriately allocate resources to patients with confidence that the nutrition resource has a strong chance of success, given that patient’s unique SDoH risk factors.

Quality Tools Matter

Before integrating a tool to address SDoH, risk-bearing organizations can assess the quality of the technology via several key traits: 
1. Current Data: is the tool drawing from up-to-date information on the patients? A lot changes in a year, so the tool should account for recent data. 
2. Targeted Data: is the tool zooming within a zip code, even within a neighborhood? Tools that look to a general area – like a mere zip code – might miss specific SDoH risk factors crucial to tailoring a care plan for a patient. 
3. Data-driven Recommendations: does the tool offer targeted intervention recommendations or put the burden solely on providers? Supportive tools should suggest specific interventions based on a patient’s social risks. 
Companies will continue to innovate tools to leverage food as medicine and risk-bearing organizations can reap the benefits by implementing the technology. The proof of successful innovation will be in the proverbial pudding: patients will see improved health outcomes via food as medicine solutions, and risk-bearing organizations should see an improvement in their return on investment (ROI) as a result. 


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