Emphasis on whole-person health care among providers, health plans, and community partners has allowed the health care community to blaze new trails toward improved patient outcomes and lower costs of care. In many cases, these successes can be directly tied to partnerships between health plans and community organizations. And in the Twin Cities, the benefits of such partnerships are demonstrated by the recent collaboration between Open Arms of Minnesota and Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota.
This partnership supports patients and their families by providing health-condition-specific home-delivered meals and nutrition education services to patients after a stay in the hospital and others with chronic conditions. We work with thousands of volunteers across the Twin Cities region, delivering more than 600,000 meals in 2018 alone. Our mission aims to provide meals to 1,000 clients per week managing chronic diseases such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, heart conditions, diabetes, and many more.
Not only do medically tailored meals provide patients and families peace of mind knowing that the majority of their meals are taken care of, but medically tailored meals and nutrition consultations are proven to assist patients in managing chronic conditions and lower the likelihood of hospital readmissions, ultimately reducing costs for patients and their families.
Evidence of additional benefits
There is strong evidence to support both the health and financial benefits of medically tailored meals. One study conducted in Philadelphia exploring a similar program showed that, for patients receiving medically tailored meals, health care costs were lower by thousands of dollars per month, hospital stays were shorter by over 35 percent, and the number of hospital visits decreased by 50 percent.
Partnering with a health plan here in Minnesota has allowed Open Arms to deliver similar results to our communities. Integrated seamlessly into the care coordination services already offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, Open Arms is able to more effectively identify, reach, and ultimately improve the health of patients. Once a patient is referred to the program by their health plan care coordinator, they receive a welcome call from one of our licensed dieticians. The dietician then conducts an initial nutrition assessment to develop a taste-conscious nutrition plan and delivery schedule that is right for the patient and their health-life needs.
Because Open Arms provides patients with nutrition coaching services as well, the benefits of the program extend far beyond meal delivery. Our goal is sustained dietary changes that benefit the patient in the long term, and we meet that goal by providing tips on how to shop for and cook foods that will continue to support the patient’s dietary needs and deliver positive health outcomes.
By partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, Open Arms has been able to amplify the positive impact of nutrition intervention in the lives of Minnesotans. But this is just one of the many ways that health plans in our community can help lower patient costs and improve health outcomes. When folded in with the range of preventive care benefits already offered by health plans, such as early screenings, counseling services, and physical fitness incentive programs, nutrition assistance and medically tailored meal delivery can round out the whole-person care that is so very necessary to meeting the needs of today’s patients — all while lowering costs in the process.
Leah Hebert Welles is the executive director of Open Arms of Minnesota.