Healthy Living

Melissa Topp, Executive Director for Care Management discusses the power of food as medicine

23 February 2024

Learn how food choices can directly affect a person’s health

Melissa Topp MSN, RN, serves as the Executive Director for Care Management at Providence Health Plan (PHP). She recently sat down with Wanda Malhotra from Authority Magazine to talk about the power of food as medicine.

Why it matters

There has been a steadily rising awareness about food’s incredible healing and preventive powers. There is a mountain of evidence that food intake and food choices can directly affect a person’s health, whether the goal is to promote recovery, decrease exacerbation, or stabilize an existing health condition.

Key points

Providence Health Plan’s Food Disparity program, run by Mel Topp and her team, identify members with a need and can often get them assistance within a week's time.

The meals come with weekly education and coaching from either a care Management nurse or a health and Wellness coach in the PHP health coaching team. Through this program, Topp said PHP serves members in all different pay categories, including Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial plans, providing food intervention.

“What was amazing about that work was the alignment with chronic conditions, which we know have a direct correlation to a higher food need. With our simple criteria, we're able to completely align that to members with chronic conditions,” Topp said. “One of the chronic conditions we uncovered during the pilot is a dental need. We discovered one of the most important things we must consider is a member’s ability to start the digestive process by chewing.”

The program tailors the support to identify the members’ goals and help change their thought processes. “We’ve found the most effective way to enact positive change and improve member outcomes is to make health and lifestyle intervention a two-way conversation rather than a directive,” Topp says.

Even though members often want to eat healthier foods, their proximity to a supermarket or a store with a wide selection of produce and other nutritional staples is limited.

A lack of education is another significant obstacle the program addresses by working to inform members about nutrition, healthy choices, and how to best shop for food.


To better educate the public about the benefits of food as medicine, Topp says we must continue to stay out in front of the community. This work is being done every time a provider uses social determinants of health codes to diagnose food needs, each time a healthcare leader gets more deeply involved in the conversation, and whenever someone takes the time to educate themselves or others about the power of food.

Programs that address food insecurity directly impact members’ nutritional health, promote health equity, save costs, support a holistic approach to health, and address essential social determinants of health like access to nutritious food.

Read more

To read more of the interview, visit Authority Magazine.

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