ProMedica’s Food Pharmacy

May 18, 2015

Gina Sares, Marketing Communications Specialist, ProMedica

Hunger is a problem that physicians see among their patients every day. Being food insecure has a significant impact on an individual’s overall health, and can contribute to conditions such as obesity, diabetes and depression. In April 2015, ProMedica opened its first food pharmacy to address this issue head on.

Courtesy: ProMedica

Courtesy: ProMedica

Housed on the campus of ProMedica Toledo Hospital, the food pharmacy accepts patients with a physician referral, offering them 2-3 days’ worth of food per visit. Patients can return to the food pharmacy once per month for up to six months, at which time they can return to their physician for another referral if they are still in need. In addition, the patient receives nutrition counseling from a dietitian, education from a diet tech, healthy recipes, and a connection to community resources.

Patients are able to choose their own foods from the pantry, alongside an expert who considers the patient’s needs, health conditions and lifestyle. ProMedica diet tech Angela Smith explained: “We have a lot of patients with Type II Diabetes, so we don’t offer them anything with added sugar. For those with hypertension, we offer them the low-sodium vegetables. For those with vitamin D deficiencies, we offer more whole grains, tuna fish, and milk so they can get that extra Vitamin D.”

The process works similar to a prescription for medicine. “Patients fill a food prescription at the food pharmacy as you would a medicine prescription at a pharmacy,” said Smith. By tying this to a physician visit, the program increases the likelihood of patient’s participation, as they know it’s in their best health interest.

ProMedica’s food pharmacy is the first in its area and data regarding similar food pharmacies in the United States is limited. However, Boston Medical Center’s Preventive Food Pantry, established more than ten years ago, served as a model for the health system more than 700 miles away.

Courtesy: ProMedica

Courtesy: ProMedica

“Food should be considered a treatment option for our patients,” said Lee Hammerling, MD, chief medical officer and chief physician executive. “If a patient has a condition such as diabetes, the patient may not be getting a balanced diet, which makes it very difficult for the physician to help regulate their glucose levels. The food pharmacy will be able to provide patients access to the necessary food to help stabilize their medical condition and keep them healthier.”

Currently, two ProMedica Physicians practices are utilizing the food pharmacy and more practices will be added to the program in the coming months.

While the program is intended to address social determinants of health and causation of disease, there is an added benefit of doing what feels right for neighbors in need.

“The patients are very grateful,” said Smith, who is also grateful to be part of the program. “It’s a great fit for me because it’s helping your community. This is my community and it feels good to help them.”