As one of the first family physicians selected for the Family Medicine Discovers Rapid Cycle Scientific Discovery and Innovation (RapSDI) initiative in 2020, Lauren Ciszak, MD, had a great plan. For her project, she wanted to research the impact of providing chronically ill patients with meal kits and nutritional education, rather than ready to heat/eat meals.
“I wanted to provide people with multiple portions, and help them improve the quality of their life by being able to make a meal and share it with the family, rather than just heating something up while the family eats something else,” says Ciszak, who practices at the South End Community Health Center in Boston. “I also wanted to teach patients what’s safe to eat and how to prepare it, so they could make better choices if they went out to eat or traveled.”
Plans were in place. Then, the pandemic hit. Rather than gathering dozens of heart-failure patients for in-person nutrition classes, Ciszak had to switch to a virtual offering. Since many of the patients didn’t own the technology needed for online classes, the size of the study group shrank. Given that limitation, her research results aren’t statistically significant. They are, however, fascinating.
“When I started this, people were concerned that I was choosing people to work with who were too ill to cook at home, and that was totally not the case,” Ciszak says. “We need to give people credit for being more resilient than we think they are – it’s easy to assume people can’t do something because of their chronic illness, and that’s not fair. People liked being able to function more normally, and they liked the group nutrition component.
“We saw really good results with a question about their overall health and quality of life – the rating went from about 50% to over 70%, and depression and anxiety went down. It’s important for us to realize that even small interventions can make a big difference.”
Even with its limited sample size, Ciszak’s research attracted the attention of the North American Primary Care Research Group (NAPCRG) Trainee Committee, and she was asked to speak at their annual meeting. As part of her presentation, she highlighted next steps: “In the future, we hope to be able to complete this project in person with a larger sample group and to expand inclusion criteria to patients with other nutrition-sensitive chronic diseases ... Lastly, a partnership with an existing meal kit company to provide and deliver kits directly to patients’ residences would allow for increased enrollment.”
As a collaboration between the AAFP Foundation and the AAFP National Research Network, the goal of FMD RapSDI is to help family physicians research and scale great ideas, quickly. The program is open to family physicians whether they have research backgrounds or not. Have an idea you’d like to explore? Start here.