Colleges of Pharmacy and Social Work collaborate to identify nutrition risks for underserved patients

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November 1, 2021

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A recent collaborative research project done by The Ohio State University Colleges of Pharmacy and Social Work studied nutrition risk among underserved patients at Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio (CPCO) and connected them with community nutrition resources.

The project was highlighted in the August issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved in an article titled, “Identifying Nutrition Risk in a Charitable Pharmacy Population.” Faculty members Jennifer Seifert, MS, RPh, BCGP, director of continuing professional development at the College of Pharmacy and former executive director of CPCO, and Jay Mirtallo, MS, RPh, BCNSP, FASHP, FASPEN, faculty emeritus of the College of Pharmacy, are authors along with CPCO social worker and current College of Social Work graduate student Beth Collier, LSW, CPhT, and College of Pharmacy alumni Sarah Jones, PharmD, RPh, and Anna Felmer, PharmD.

The study identifies nutrition risk as both food insecurity and malnutrition. While there are many tools that look at those risks individually, a tool created by the Ohio Malnutrition Prevention Workgroup was made to find both. This tool is a set of survey questions with a point system that determines a patient’s total nutrition risk.

CPCO used this dual-purpose screening tool during patients’ initial and annual qualification interviews. Patients who screen positive for nutrition risk were connected to a community nutrition resource like a food pantry, home-delivered meal service and/or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Of the 221 patients screened, the tool found that 63% of patients screened positive for at least one type of nutrition risk. Of those at nutrition risk, 38% were positive for food insecurity, 6% were positive for malnutrition risk and 19% were positive for both nutrition risks. Patients that screened positive for nutrition risk were then offered and referred to resources to address food insecurity and malnutrition.

The tool can easily be used in existing patient screening processes, allowing for more patients to find the care they need. Since pharmacies typically see patients more frequently than other health care providers, it makes sense to use this tool on an on-going basis. CPCO will continue to screen for nutrition risk as a part of patient qualifications going forward.

This study also highlights the importance of interdisciplinary work to help community populations.

The study’s authors state, “It is vital to determine what additional referrals an individual patient may need (e.g., transportation), as well as to identify systemic barriers that affect many patients (e.g., access to registered dietitians for the uninsured),” as the next steps.