A line at Fry's grocery store in downtown Phoenix.

Evelyn Ruelas/Cronkite News

A line at Fry's grocery store in downtown Phoenix.

Grocery delivery platform Instacart has partnered with home health care providers to allow them to prescribe food to patients. The deal with DispatchHealth is part of a program known as Instacart Health that launched in 2022. It aims to provide more access to online ordering and healthier foods.

Poonam Oori Vachaspati, a professor in Arizona State University's School of Health Solutions and leader of the school's Food Policy and Environment Research Group, spoke in detail about the program on the show.

Full interview

Mark Brody: Poonam, how do you think this new program will work?

Punam Oori Bachaspati: So the idea here is to improve access to food, especially in communities where there is limited access to grocery stores where you can buy food, first of all, you know, transportation issues. The latest announcement to address this issue also launches a system that allows health care providers and health care providers to write prescriptions for certain types of health foods and allows consumers and patients to purchase those items online. ing. Through their system. Doing so facilitates access by allowing people to obtain foods from sources that provide them, as they often live in areas where healthy foods are not available. . Another is affordability, where you can get help paying for healthier food through incentives or through your insurance company or provider. And the third item is to promote that.

Brody: For example, if a cardiologist is treating a patient who needs a more heart-healthy diet, the doctor can prescribe certain foods for that patient and order those foods through Instacart to be delivered to their home. The same idea applies. .

Oli Bachaspati: So, what I would like to say is that our health care providers are amazing, they're really well trained, and the service that they provide is amazing. One of the unfortunate aspects, however, is that nutrition education is somewhat limited in our medical practice. And we have trained dietitian experts who provide dietary and nutritional advice and prescriptions. But in this scenario, if a health care provider works with a nutritionist to provide certain types of foods, you know, those that are directly nourished through this technology and available on Instacart that are healthy for this individual. A list of food items will be provided. The person can know what kind of food to buy.

Brody: got it. You mentioned the issue of access, and obviously from the perspective of people living in areas where it's very difficult to get fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy food, food deserts and access to healthy food. There's a lot of talk about deserts. , Something like that. But I'm curious: what is the overlap between such places? Where you can't get these food deserts or Instacart delivery. Even if a nutritionist or doctor prescribes healthy food, can you get it through Instacart?

Oli Bachaspati: I think that's the challenge, right? And that's the challenge that public-private partnerships like Instacart and DoorDash are trying to address. And one of the main barriers to accessing healthy food is the lack of a nearby store. Then transportation becomes an issue, right? If you have to drive 10 or 15 miles to get to the nearest store, that's what many people do in rural communities. That's a challenge.

So what companies like Instacart are proposing is that they can provide access by providing transportation for food delivery to areas and stores with limited access. Another thing you really need to think about is shipping costs. So, with their current efforts, they're subsidizing it, paying shipping fees for up to four months or so. But what happens after four months?

For example, people on SNAP (Food Stamp Program) can now make online purchases in all 50 states, which is a huge accomplishment. The biggest challenge, however, is that SNAP doesn't pay for shipping. And if we can find a way to address this shipping fee issue with public-private partnerships like Instacart, I think the shipping fee issue is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Brody: Well, then how do you overcome it? In some cases, perhaps food and delivery, but at least you have an idea in your head who will ultimately foot the bill for the delivery?

Oli Bachaspati: right. So I think food is a food assistance program like SNAP or WIC. I also think there's a whole movement to tie health care, Medicaid and other health insurance programs together so that other insurance companies step up and pay for healthy food. As a means of preventing and managing chronic diseases. However, according to the text of the law, SNAP cannot pay for items other than food. I think that's where we want to be. We want to build these kinds of public-private partnerships with industry partners, community partners, and perhaps employers who can provide solutions to make delivery happen. Solutions may include bulk deliveries to specific sites, or deliveries to work sites or childcare centers to minimize shipping costs.

Brody: Yeah. At the end of the day, how much potential do you think programs like the one Instacart has here have? How much damage could this do to the health problems we have in this country and in different communities? Do you think it has sex? Diet issues that we have in certain communities are like how and how big a role can something like this play?

Oli Bachaspati: I think food and meals are influenced by many different things. Therefore, there is no easy solution. One bullet solves everything. It's like one program that solves everything. So I think all of these programs have a very important role to play in impacting this society.

For example, food insecurity is a huge national issue. The bigger issue is nutritional security, and it goes beyond food security where we want to ensure that the food we have access to is actually healthy. So programs like Instacart and other industry partners can help improve access to healthy food. And in the future, as more programs evolve, they will use this technology to steer people towards healthier options and purchase unhealthy options that can now be done with food assistance programs. I think it can be kind of prevented.

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