There are copious health professionals in Australia that incorporate nutrition advice into their health care. There are the ‘obvious’ such as dietitians and nutritionists; as well as the ‘understandable’ such as practice nurses, General Practitioners, naturopaths, exercise physiologists and pharmacists. Despite having a varied approach to providing nutrition advice to patients, many perceive their own profession to be the best equipped to provide nutrition advice to patients.1  

Recent research from the Nutrition and Dietetics team at Griffith University have found that patients prefer to receive nutrition advice from GPs rather than other health professionals, including dietitians.2 Specifically, the research found that GPs are the most recognised health profession that is able to provide nutrition advice to patients, followed by dietitians. GPs are preferred because they are perceived to be extremely knowledgeable, trustworthy and professional. In addition, patients are confused about the professional differences between dietitians, nutritionists and other health professionals in this area. As a result, patients are increasingly asking their GP for advice relating to nutrition, and dietitians need to pay attention.

Alarmingly, there is minimal evidence that private practice dietitians are effective in improving the nutrition behaviour of their patients, and dietitians appear to be tailoring their services to the limited funding available through the Medicare system.3, 4  In the meantime, the evidence for GPs and practice nurses being effective in improving the nutrition behaviour of patients is growing, despite limited time available in consultations.5, 6 

Further attention by private practice dietitians is required. Their role in primary health care is evolving, and justification of the expanding number of private practice dietitians is needed. The challenge for future dietitians across Australia will be to positively influence patients’ perceptions of private practice dietitians in order to ensure this sub-group of dietetics remains viable. Alternatively, the provision of nutrition advice to patients in Australian primary health care may be incorporated across many health professions, minimising the need for dietitians in this setting.

 

1.Ball, Hughes, Leveritt. A study of health professionals’ views of the effectiveness of nutrition care in general practice. Nutrition & Dietetics (Online early issue) 2012.

2.Ball L, Desbrow B, Leveritt M. An exploration of individuals’ preferences for nutrition care from Australian primary care health professionals. Australian Journal of Primary Health 2013;Online early issue.

3.Foster M, Mitchell G, Haines T, et al. Does Enhanced Primary Care enhance primary care? Policy-induced dilemmas for allied health professionals. Medical Journal of Australia 2008;188(1):29-32.

4.Ball L, Larsson R, Gerathy R, Hood P, Lowe C. The working profile of Australian private practice Accredited Practising Dietitians. Nutrition & Dietetics (In Press) 2013.

5.Ball L, Johnson C, Desbrow B, Leveritt M. General practitioners can offer effective nutrition care to patients with lifestylerelated chronic disease: a systematic review. J Prim Health Care 2013;5(1):59-69.

6.Halcomb EJ, Peters K, Davies D. A qualitative evaluation of New Zealand consumers perceptions of general practice nurses. BMC Fam Pract 2013 Feb 22;14(1):26.