One in four hospital patients are malnourished in Australia, while hospital staff do not be seem aware of the problem at all.
According to the study in Nutrition and Dietetics
published by Wiley-Blackwell, the result is poor patient outcomes and added financial pressure for hospitals.
Study co-author Dr Tim Crowe said his research found malnutrition is common in the hospital setting, but many patients are undiagnosed and untreated. And only a small number are referred to a dietitian for treatment. He said this resulted in poorer outcomes for patients such as infections, bed ulcers and increased length of hospital stay.
The study, involving 275 patients at a large Melbourne hospital, looked at the prevalence, diagnosis, documentation and referral rates for malnutrition. The researchers estimated the hospital was missing out on $1.8 million of funding per year due to poor diagnosis and a lack of documentation around malnutrition.
"Of the 275 patients in the study, 23 per cent were malnourished. And only 15 per cent of malnourished patients were correctly identified, and less than half of these cases were referred to a dietitian," said Dr Crowe, an Accredited Practising Dietitian from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University.
Claire Hewat, CEO of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) said: 'Malnutrition is a serious and debilitating condition. And it's not unique to hospital patients - it's a problem affecting the wider community, especially elderly Australians.'
DAA is again calling on the government to bring in routine malnutrition screening for at-risk people in hospitals and aged care facilities. Ms Hewat said this would save millions of dollars which could be used to attack waiting lists and would save unnecessary pain and suffering for patients and their families.
She said the Association had recently endorsed practice guidelines to help dietitians manage malnutrition.