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Dietitians want malnutrition screening introduced in aged care

By Karen Keast | Last Updated: 18-10-2013

DAA chief executive officer Claire Hewat

A simple no-cost screening process for malnutrition in older people could shave “a fortune” off Australia’s health budget but is unlikely to be implemented because it doesn’t generate money, according to dietitians.

The Dietitians Association of Australia wants the Federal Government to introduce the already developed risk screening tool as part of a new national program for screening and assessing malnutrition in older people.

DAA chief executive officer Claire Hewat said the tool could be used in the community and in aged care facilities, with statistics showing malnutrition affects up to one in three people living in the community and between 40 to 70 per cent of those in residential aged care.

“Malnutrition is absolutely rife in the elderly community and it’s costing

the country a fortune, and in turn it’s also costing people their independence,” she said.

“For a country like Australia, this is not acceptable.

“This screening has the potential to reduce admissions to aged care and reduce admissions to hospital.

“Often it is the simplest things that are overlooked…because they can’t put a plaque on it and no one is going to make squillions out of this.”

Ms Hewat said the tool, a simple question process, could be administered by nurses or other health care workers during the admission process, and is already routinely used in admission to acute care in hospitals.

“A lot of people come into hospital or aged care malnourished,” she said.

“If they are malnourished, or if the person is then identified of being at risk of malnutrition, it is only then you need to consult with a dietitian.

“Just having it mandated and having an appropriate process that is already developed, it can be routinely done.”

Ms Hewat said the screening process could prevent or treat malnutrition, working to keep people out of hospital and aged care facilities and enable them to live longer at home.

“One of the biggest risks of ending up in residential care is the consequence of malnutrition,” she said.

“If they were properly nourished they would be able to stay in their homes for longer.”

In the lead up to this year’s federal election, the DAA is urging political parties to put nutrition on the agenda.

The association is also calling for access to Accredited Practising Dietitians to be expanded to include telehealth under Medicare.

Ms Hewat said the current system only provided a rebate through Medicare where services are delivered in person.

She said providing telehealth services through Medicare will assist “thousands of people” in rural and remote areas with Diabetes and other nutrition-related conditions.

“People who have private insurance, it pays for telehealth now,” she said.

“Under Medicare, the people who need it the most are the ones who have the least access to it.”

Ms Hewat said dietetics was well suited to telehealth and dietitians are already embracing a range of technology to consult with clients in rural and remote areas.

“This will not cost the government more but could make a real difference to people living in rural and remote areas,” she said.

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