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Study Links Better Nutrition To Shorter Hospital Stays

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A new study has found a connection between people who are malnourished with having longer hospital stays.

Researchers from Advocate Health Care and Abbott Laboratories screened new hospital patients for nutrition deficits. If patients were malnourished or at-risk of malnourishment, they were given two bottles of a nutritional supplement a day along with their regular hospital meals to make them nutritionally healthy, according to Dr. Tom Summerfelt, vice president of research and innovation at Advocate.

Summerfelt said that resulted in patients staying in the hospital, on average, about five days, compared to the old average of seven days.

"When you take away all that other stuff that was going on, and just leave nutrition there, that seems to be what's happening; that nutrition was causing that reduction on average of two days, which is about $3,000 just in the room charge," he said.

Advocate plans to implement nutritional screening in hospitals starting next year, according to Summerfelt. He said patients do not necessarily have to be emaciated to be lacking nutritionally. He said it could be that a person who has felt ill did not feel like eating as much as usual for awhile.

"It's not that the patients are eating poorly – I mean, sometimes they are – but like all of us, when you're sick, or you're not feeling well, or you're getting ready to have surgery, or whatever, you don't always feel like eating," he said.

A four-question screening test includes asking if patients had lost weight without trying in the last 30 days, and if they're not as hungry as much as they have been in the past.

"If they were identified as being malnourished, or at risk of being malnourished, they got the same food orders up from the kitchen; except they got an additional supplement, and it was usually two bottles a day of oral nutritional supplementation," Summerfelt said.

Those patients were also less likely to be re-admitted to the hospital within a month, according to Summerfelt.

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