Hospitals are increasingly developing food prescription programs. Food Prescription programs make it easier for low-income patients and their families to access the fresh fruits and vegetables they need in order to ensure that they are eating balanced, healthy diets.
Physicians can prescribe coupons that are redeemable for free or reduced fresh produce either directly in their clinic or hospital and through partnerships with retailers or farmers markets. Early adopters of food prescription programs include Boston Medical Center and Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Food Rx in Chicago, and FVRx at Harlem Hospital Center.
A 2018 community needs assessment conducted by Nashville General Hospital identified three major needs of local cancer patients: access to healthier foods, access to healthy food sources and assistance with buying healthy food.
The hospital recently opened a food pharmacy. The food pharmacy will serve patients in the hospital’s oncology department, among others, who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
Hospital officials said the food pharmacy will be able to support those patients facing malnourishment as well as individuals with hypertension, heart disease and diabetes without clogging the emergency department.
The Geisinger Fresh Food Pharmacy is been implemented at a hospital in central Pennsylvania and is stocked with healthy pantry staples, like oatmeal and peanut butter, as well as fresh produce.
The pilot program served more than 60 patients and their families, providing healthy food free of charge to more than 200 people each week along with nutrition classes and cooking advice.
Geisinger says despite giving away food for free, the program is expected to actually save money by reducing long-term medical costs. The Fresh Food Pharmacy program has been so successful, they’re already planning to expand — hoping to put similar programs in place at a dozen other locations across Pennsylvania and New Jersey
Over the course of a year, the company will spend about $1,000 on each Fresh Food Pharmacy patient. All of the participants in the program are low-income, so the gift of the food eliminated a key obstacle to eating well.