In a blow to GPs’ and dietitians in Australia’s stressed public health system, researchers from Griffith University have found two lines of information from a GP could be more effective than five visits to a dietitian.

The research highlights not just the changing role of GPs, but the added pressure placed on them by governments desperate to pull back ballooning health budgets through preventative health.

Preventative health

The results also work against the Federal government’s “patient centred care” focus and the goals of the Preventative Health Taskforce, established in 2010.

The study was the focus of a PhD by Lauren Ball of Griffith University’s School of Public Health.

“What the literature is telling us is that two lines of information from a doctor may be enough to motivate a patient to improve their diet,” said Ms Ball.

“Although a dietitian knows more about food, people are not prepared to take the information on. Also, people want to go to a doctor once, and they respect what the doctor says.

The power of the doctor

“It’s basically the power of the doctor in our society. If your GP says ‘stop eating crap and get some exercise’ the patient will do it. If a dietitian says the same thing, people can be skeptical, or worse just won’t turn up to the consultation at all.”

Ms Ball’s research says the structure of interdisciplinary care needs fixing, with allied health professionals (like dietitians) and doctors rarely seeing eye-to-eye on possible changes despite the extra pressure and work heaped on the GPs.

More support needed for both

“GPs don’t actually feel that confident giving out this sort of (nutritional) information. On the one hand the GPs need more support and training to give out basic advice, but allied health professionals rely on GPs for referrals, so they don’t think GPs should give out nutritional information. It’s also a matter of professional viability,” Ms Ball said.

Ms Ball completed her PhD through Griffith’s Nutrition and Dietetics program and her ultimate goal was to explore the role of GPs in delivering nutrition information to patients.