After mandatory fortification of grain products with folic acid in the US in 1998, folate deficiency has become rare. Some have suggested that serum folate levels should be tested rarely in countries with mandatory folic acid fortification given low rates of deficiency, high cost per deficiency diagnosis, and low rates of supplementation for those diagnosed as deficient. Given persistent racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in folate deficiency, these suggestions may not apply to all populations. We examine the rate at which serum testing detected folate deficiency in an urban safety net hospital and the characteristics of folate deficient patients.
We reviewed the charts of all inpatients and emergency department patients with low serum folate results at a safety net hospital in Boston in 2018. We collected data concerning demographics, social determinants of health, clinical factors, and whether folate supplementation was prescribed. Finally, we performed a cost analysis.
Of 1368 patients tested, 76 (5.5%) met criteria for folate deficiency. Overall, 86.8% of these patients were anemic, and 17.1% had macrocytic anemia. 42% were diagnosed with malnutrition. Common social determinants in folate deficient patients included birth outside of the US, homelessness, and alcohol use disorder. Of folate deficient patients, 88% were newly prescribed folic acid supplementation at discharge. The estimated charge per deficient test was $1,278.
Compared to a nearby institution, serum folate testing at our safety-net hospital detected deficiency at a higher rate, incurred a lower charge per deficient test, and was more likely to impact management.

Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Inc.