The Geisinger Health System is running a small program that gives diabetic patients in their health insurance program a weekly prescription of healthy food. The program, called the Fresh Food Farmacy, is currently based out of one of their clinical centers, but it has been so successful that they are considering expansion.
What is the Farmacy?
Geisinger saw that many diabetics are also food insecure, meaning that they have a hard time getting access to healthy food. Many people are also forced to choose between fresh, nutritious food and cheap, nutrition-poor options, which can impact their long-term health. Yet, diabetes is a disease that responds well to lifestyle intervention.
Geisinger decided to try and improve patient health by literally prescribing education and fresh foods. They created a food pantry at their clinic and stocked it with healthy, nutritious options. The health group also put together a team to manage patients that consisted of a:
- program coordinator
- primary care physician
- registered dietitian
- health coach
- community health assistant
- nonclinical administrative-support personnel
They searched for patients with type two diabetes, A1C levels above 8, and food insecurity, and offered the option of joining the program. Once enrolled, patients received more than 20 hours of diabetes education, a welcome kit with cooking supplies, and a weekly prescription of free, healthy food. Each week patients come in for their appointments, and pick up enough groceries to provide two healthy meals a day/five days a week for their entire household. Yep, it’s enough food for everyone in the family to ensure that everyone eats.
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What Were the Results?
The program has been running for about nine months and is yielding very positive results. Program costs per patient are about $2200 per year. But, they found that patient care costs for those enrolled dropped by about two-thirds. Before the program, their costs equaled about $8,000 to $12,000 on average per person per month.
More importantly, patient health is quantitatively improved. Geisinger saw patient HbA1c levels drop from an average of 9.6 points before the program to 7.5 points. Patients are also seeing lower cholesterol, blood sugars, and triglycerides. The regular appointments also mean that communication is improved and patients get better management of their medications and are receiving regular diabetic foot exams.
At the start of the Farmacy program, six patients were enrolled, which was eventually increased to 80 patients and their families.