Improving nutritional advice for patients

The role of nutrition as part of a healthy lifestyle is well understood by the medical profession but whether this information is easily conveyed to patients is another matter.

How much confidence GPs have in providing nutritional advice to their patients is now the subject of research by Griffith University’s Dr Lauren Ball. She says that approximately two thirds of general practice consultations concern patients with chronic disease issues such as being overweight or having high cholesterol or diabetes.

“We already know that nutrition is the most influential factor affecting how well these conditions are managed, however we know from previous research that the level of nutritional advice provided by GPs is extremely low,” says Dr Ball who is part of Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland (MHIQ).

“We believe that even brief mention of the importance of nutrition, or a suggestion to speak with a dietitian, can have an immediate positive impact on the patient to go forward and seek further information about potential health benefits.” As part of National Health and Medical Research Council funding, the research will investigate GPs’ confidence in providing nutritional advice to patients, including the levels of knowledge and skills GPs feel they have in this area, their attitudes regarding how important nutrition is to them and the barriers they face in incorporating nutrition into their care.

Dr Ball will be asking GPs to complete an online survey regarding the issues, which will see them receiving a ‘nutrition confidence’ score.

The survey can be found here:

“This will then inform us in our design of an appropriate intervention and will probably involve a number of activities, including an educational workshop which will help GPs raise the topic with patients in a timely and appropriate manner. We can also use the score to track the progress of GPs, both before and after any interventions that may occur.

“Dietary advice is a pivotal part of any healthy lifestyle but sometimes issues such as time constraints in general practice prevent this from being successfully delivered,” says Dr Cris Beer, a GP registered with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. “Unfortunately, this is not something usually taught atmedical school, but in reality more and more patients are seeking nutritional advice from their GP as their first point of reference. “This research at Griffith will be very valuable in ascertaining how to best support GPs, and hopefully provide them with some new strategies to meet nutrition patients’ needs specific to their particular condition or situation.”