Key Takeaways

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

As the “food as medicine” movement continues to gain steam, healthcare providers increasingly look to their patients’ diets for clues about their health risks. Furthermore, clinicians are increasingly incorporating nutrition into aspects of treatment.

But what does supporting patients to eat better look like in practice?

In this episode of the Memora Health Care Delivery Podcast, our guest Marc Watkins, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Kroger Health, discusses what challenges unhealthy eating poses to healthcare at scale, how his organization leverages technology to reinforce positive nutrition habits, and lessons providers can learn from consumer-facing industries.

Nutrition presents promising opportunities for U.S. healthcare

According to the CDC, adults in the U.S. who eat healthier tend to live longer and experience reduced risks of developing chronic and complex illnesses. However, only 25% of American adults consume daily recommended portions of fruits, vegetables, and dairy. And 90% intake too much sodiuma factor classically tied to chronic illness.

With more and more Americans facing chronic and complex conditions, Dr. Watkins suggests most people need resources and support to turn a new page. He says, “Unfortunately, when we look at the climate of health in the United States, we have some significant headwinds … We are sick as a nation … six out of 10 folks have a chronic disease and four out of 10 have more than one chronic disease. We believe that there are these nutritionally related conditions and ailments that continue to drive chronic disease … We didn’t get here overnight, but how do we course-correct and give Americans an opportunity to regain control over their health?”

That’s why Dr. Watkins argues providers need “to provide this intersection where food and nutrition aid individuals through interventions that support health.” He adds, “We at Kroger believe in a dedicated, educated, and personalized way of eating and enjoying foods so we can live healthier lives and prevent illness before it starts.”

Promoting health and nutrition means understanding how consumers make their food choices

Supporting patients to eat healthier diets is easier said than done. Most food choices are made beyond the influence of care teams. Ultimately, reinforcing healthy habits in a simplified and modernized way is near impossible without the right tools.

Dr. Watkins proposes healthcare organizations use technology to support individuals beyond the walls of the clinic to meet them upstream. 

For Kroger Health, Dr. Watkins says, “We want to be able to provide folks with an opportunity to understand what may be healthier for them. We created a simple scoring system that scores the food in our stores … Simply take your smartphone, scan an item in our store, it’ll be rated 1-100. The higher it scores, the better it is for you.” 

By integrating smart technology, Kroger gamifies nutritional food selection — which could help prevent acute illness. Additionally, information gleaned from grocery habits can be shared with providers to enhance care coordination. 

Dr. Watkins adds, “We have a team of registered dietitians who make up our continuum of healthcare providers at Kroger Health … They provide that level of interdisciplinary consultation that helps to further drive knowledge and awareness within our organization … [They] also do that with system affiliations, payors, and others throughout the ecosystem by sharing what we know about food attributes … if we really believe we’re going to course-correct and change the way America eats, we really need to share this [data] — and share [it] at scale.”

Innovative intelligent care enablement technologies embody this same principle, using advanced conversational AI to understand patient needs, collect that data, and provide longitudinal patient views for care teams that are easily accessible within systems of record.

Healthcare can learn a lot about patient needs from consumer industries

Rooted in its retail grocery origins, Kroger Health has a unique position within the healthcare landscape. One advantage to its history as a company is a base framework foundationalized in consumer trust.

Dr. Watkins expands on the importance of the consumerism lens in improving care delivery, saying, “It’s really based on earning trust. We’ve earned your trust with food and shopping. So how do we earn it on the healthcare side? … Some of the issues, even 20 years ago, are the same they are today. One was access to care, two was convenience, three was pricing transparency. As we create a seamless healthcare organization that provides world-class care, how do we couple that with convenience, ease of scheduling, and transparent pricing so we can compete?”

This same concept of earning trust extends to retaining and satisfying the healthcare workforce. Dr. Watkins remarks, “We want to have our providers practice at the top of their license … If we create systems, processes, and platforms that allow them to practice at the top, they can deliver that high level of care that’s rooted in trust … [Clinicians] want to be supported to practice at the top of their license and deliver value to their patients.”

Memora Health specifically supports organizations to encourage top-of-license care by intelligently automating many routine aspects of care delivery. By untethering clinicians from some of their overwhelming EHR requirements, healthcare organizations can earn a deeper level of trust from providers — while freeing up their time to connect on a human level with patients.