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Connecting Clinics to Kitchens: Health for America at MedStar Health Creates WellRooted

Amanda Newman

Healthcare Innovation Fellow, Health For America
4 bright Health for America fellows

A number of sources have pointed out that Americans spend less time cooking and less time sitting down to eat than in decades past. We’re spending more money eating out, and, if we do cook at home, we’re looking to a variety of sources to make that faster and easier.

Alongside changes in Americans’ dining habits, we’re also seeing an alarming increase of type 2 diabetes in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, and an additional 86 million are living with prediabetes.

In total, diabetes costs $245 billion annually in medical expenses as well as lost work and wages. At this rate, those numbers are on track to rise given that experts predict one in three Americans will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

The intersection of these trends is a complex one — diet alone does not cause diabetes, but it does play a critical role in prevention and management. This is precisely what attracted the 2015-16 Health for America at MedStar Health fellows.

At the beginning of our fellowship in September 2015, Dan Hoff, May Paquete, Jake Vildibill and I were challenged to create an innovative solution to improve the lives of people living with type 2 diabetes.

After recognizing the complex yet undeniable opportunity in the intersection of food trends and diabetes management, we created WellRooted, a unique food delivery and education service tailored to the needs of people living with type 2 diabetes.

The idea for WellRooted initially emerged during our exploration phase, the first of the fellowship’s three-phase structure. During this time, we immersed ourselves in all aspects of the chronic condition by interviewing patients and care providers and shadowing clinical interactions at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

To supplement our experiential learning, we attended more than 50 educational events, researched trends in community interventions and technological innovation and met with other mentors (many of whom came from the 1776 network).

To build empathy, we also participated in a two-week diabetes simulation. The simulation illuminated the challenges people living with diabetes face with managing time, planning easy, satisfying meals, and finding accurate, actionable information.

Later in the year, we tackled the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Challenge in which participants eat on a food-stamps budget for a period of several weeks. The SNAP challenge deepened our understanding of the barriers associated with eating healthy on a restricted income.

Our interactions with people living with diabetes, their caregivers and healthcare providers were perhaps most impactful. We consistently heard about the nutrition challenges people with type 2 diabetes face and the resulting confusion, frustration and disappointment.

We recognized an opportunity to bridge an educational gap between clinics and kitchens, while giving people easier access to diabetes-friendly, cost-conscious meals they’ll want to enjoy with others.

We worked with the MedStar Diabetes Institute to develop WellRooted, which offers two diabetes-friendly menus through its website, wellrootedfoods.com. Cook-at-Home offers free recipes plus an easy connection to affordable ingredient delivery.

hfa diabetes medstar health for america meal

Ready-to-Eat provides deliveries of fully-prepared meals via Power Supply, a meal delivery company with hubs in the Washington, D.C., region and California. (In fact, a mentorship meeting with 1776 co-CEO Donna Harris inspired us to add Ready-to-Eat offerings and equipped us to quickly pilot this channel!)

To make it onto WellRooted’s menu, meals must include cultural variety and contain 350-600 calories, 30-60 grams carbohydrates and less than 750 milligrams sodium.

Cook-at-Home meals contain no more than 12 ingredients and can be cooked within 20-35 minutes. Step-by-step instructions with photos are included, and the recipes use basic cooking equipment and methods. Each recipe comes with “bite size” nutrition education messages. Recipes are free and available on the WellRooted website.

Cook-at-Home recipe ingredients cost $6-10 per person per meal, and Ready-to-Eat prepared meals start at $13 per person per meal.

Though the fellowship ended in July, the fellows and the team of clinicians we collaborated with are optimistic about the potential impact WellRooted could have in diabetes care. I join one of my peers in staying involved to help transition WellRooted to its next stage. MedStar continues to offer the service to patients and associates while pursuing a long-term strategy to sustain and grow it with Power Supply.

Our WellRooted team celebrates the success stories we’ve heard so far. One WellRooted customer was able to make healthier choices for his diabetes while cooking meals his adult sons could scarf down, too. Another woman, who is using WellRooted to cook for herself and her aging mother, both of whom have diabetes, told me she is now “hot for zucchini!”

By collaborating with a range of stakeholders inside and outside of MedStar Health, we’re proud we found a way to fit healthy eating into the context of daily life for people with diabetes and beyond. But we join other entrepreneurs in staying laser focused on what’s next — continuing to work with our partners to iterate, adapt and scale.

As WellRooted takes on a life of its own, Health for America at MedStar Health is preparing to welcome the 2016-17 Health for America at MedStar fellows. Though the incoming fellows will focus on stroke instead of diabetes, they will receive the same challenge: create an innovative solution that will improve lives.

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Click here to read Health for America at MedStar Health’s official announcement highlighting WellRooted and introducing the incoming fellows and their health focus.

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Amanda Newman

Healthcare Innovation Fellow, Health For America

Amanda is an alumna and strategic advisor to the Health for America at MedStar Health fellowship. As a 2015-16 fellow, Amanda worked with a team of early career professionals to build…

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