Throughout this summer, I’ve been writing about farmer’s markets. More specifically, I’ve been writing about the impact farmer’s markets can have on communities.
In May, I wrote about the St. Louis MetroMarket’s partnership with Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis in which doctors “prescribe” fresh produce from MetroMarket if they determine that food insecurity is an issue at home.
What I didn’t know a few months ago, was that something similar is happening in my own state, Maryland. Maryland is currently about half way through a five-year partnership with the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation to test whether shifting hospitals’ focus from providing acute care, surgeries, and inpatient care to preventive care could save hospitals money by helping people get healthy before they are in need of a hospital stay.
Since launching the partnership, Maryland has seen a decrease in readmission rates, hospital-acquired infections, and avoidable hospital visits. These reductions were largely accomplished through non-traditional hospital activities, including working with Wholesome Wave. Operating under the belief that “poverty should not be an obstacle to eating fruits and vegetables,” Wholesome Wave’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program® (FVRx®) allows health care providers to write “prescriptions” in the form of vouchers for fresh produce from farmer’s markets, grocery stores, and other participating retailers.
But the FVRx Program doesn’t just provide the vouchers and leave it at that. Participants of the program attend a clinic visit during which they meet with a counselor to outline goals and discuss the importance of eating healthy. Once the prescription for fruits and vegetables is written, the participant’s health indicators are recorded so that the impact of the program can be effectively measured. When an FVRx participant redeems his or her prescription, the retailer tracks it so there is a record of when the vouchers are being used and who is making use of the vouchers. Participants attend monthly clinic visits, during which they can refill their prescriptions and set new goals.
According to the Wholesome Wave website, 96 percent of participants (nationwide, not just in Maryland) report being told about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables at every visit with their health care provider; 61 percent made monthly visits to their health care provider; and 96 percent report that they were happier with their weight management program after they began participating in FVRx.
Wholesome Wave’s mission is to inspire “under-served consumers to make healthier food choices by increasing affordable access to fresh, local, and regional food.” Clearly, it’s working.
As the health care industry continues to shift from a volume-based system, where the amount of care provided reigned supreme to a value-based system, where the quality of health care is paramount, programs such as Wholesome Wave will play an increasingly important role. The advancement of population health means that vulnerable populations will increasingly need targeted interventions, and health care providers are going to need to make more “boots on the ground” inroads in their communities. The work being done in Maryland and other states is a step in the right direction.