Preparing for surgery is similar to training for a marathon. Patients need to prepare for the toll surgery takes on the body, and getting the right nutrition before and after a procedure is critical to support healing and recovery.
Yet, a staggering 1 in 3 patients enter the hospital malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. Malnutrition may be invisible to the eye and often goes undiagnosed. Many do not realize that this underlying condition can occur in individuals who are underweight or overweight, and being malnourished prior to surgery can impact a patient’s health outcomes. A recent study shows the power of what addressing nutrition can do for surgical malnourished patients.
Advocate Health Care, a health care system in the Chicagoland area, conducted a study to evaluate the clinical benefits of a nutrition quality improvement program in at-risk or malnourished patients. The research was supported by Abbott and recently published in The Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. The data showed that for the more than 300 surgical patients in the study who received nutrition care post-surgery, they had reduced 30-day hospital readmission rates by nearly 50 percent and average length of stay by 2.7 days. This in turn led to overall healthcare savings at $3,800 per patient.
A study in The American Journal of Surgery found that less than half of American surgeons perform nutrition screenings of their patients before gastrointestinal or cancer surgeries. Addressing nutrition for surgical patients is simple and can start with a basic, two-question screening. First, is the patient experiencing a normal appetite? And second, is the patient experiencing unintentional weight loss? This straightforward screening allows healthcare professionals to quickly assess risk of malnutrition prior to surgery and immediately implement a plan of action for those in need.
Medical guidelines are paying attention to the importance of nutrition. At a recent conference, a group of international experts from the American Society for Enhanced Recovery (ASER) and Perioperative Quality Initiative developed new guidelines for surgery-related nutrition. These guidelines call for routine pre-surgery nutrition screening to identify patients in need of nutrition care, to restart nutrition supplementation immediately after surgery and continue to incorporate it as part of their post-operative care.
Prioritizing nutrition can help set the stage for improved health outcomes, may significantly enhance quality of life, and help decrease the economic burden on our healthcare system. Research shows that when medical teams screen, feed, and follow patients’ nutritional status in the hospital and after the patients are discharged, they are helping patients have the best chance of a successful recovery.
In addition to maintaining a healthy diet over the long term, which is important whether a patient is malnourished or not, nutritional supplements before and after surgery can help surgical patients achieve a successful recovery. Abbott’s nutritional drinks for patients undergoing surgery, including Ensure Pre-Surgery Clear Nutrition Drink and Ensure Surgery Immunonutrition Drink, are options to consider that align to the new surgical guidelines developed by the international experts from ASER and Perioperative Quality Initiative.
Suela Sulo, PhD, MS, is a health outcomes researcher at Abbott, studying the total value of nutrition. Dr. Sulo received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Psychology and Counseling from University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, and a PhD in Organization Leadership from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.