Medically Tailored Meals at Retail?
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Medically tailored meals are growing in popularity as part of the Food as Medicine movement. These meals are personalized to address the medical needs of recipients by an RDN, and are designed to improve health outcomes, lower cost of care and increase patient satisfaction. As consumers look to retailers for more food related health and wellness resources, could a retail MTM program be the next step in providing a personalized health solution? With opportunities for reimbursement and the current pandemic situation, this may be a perfect time to look at this opportunity. Here are some MTM questions to first consider:
- What are the key needs of your community and customer base? Are your stores in a community that has a dialysis clinic, cancer treatment center, or hospital focused on heart health? Is diabetes a major concern for your shoppers? Many individuals afflicted with a severe health condition may lack the culinary skills, motivation and funds to shop for and prepare appropriate meals. Do some local research with current and potential customers to determine what voids could be filled with MTM.
- Is it possible to partner with an outside vendor for MTM? Allison Yoder, MA RDN LD, Nutrition in Food Retail Program Development Fellow with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation, thinks there is huge potential with retailers offering MTM, specifically if they look at partnerships. She states that several community-based organizations are doing a phenomenal job with executing these programs already and there is the opportunity for food retailers to scale the programs and increase the impact. For example, MANNA, A Food is Medicine organization in Philadelphia, provides MTM and nutrition counseling for community members at nutrition risk from serious illness while Solera formed a major partnership with Feeding America to help health plans address food insecurity. Companies like these have figured out the logistics but a partnership with your stores could expand the reach while providing new ecommerce sales opportunities to your retailer.
- Is there funding or reimbursement for MTM? If you are currently providing MNT telehealth consulting services, giving clients the option for obtaining MTM that meet their needs may be a logical next step and such a program may be covered for some individuals. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finalized a rule recently that allows Medicare Advantage plans to be reimbursed for supplemental benefits that can boost health outcomes, like providing specialized meals. Also, if your company is self-insured, you may want to investigate how an MTM program could be part of a benefit plan to reduce medical costs for your own employees.