Better quality data is needed to confirm the conclusion, but existing studies suggest that providing nutritional training to health care staff may shorten hospital stays, improve patient outcomes, and reduce overall health care costs.
Poor nutrition is a concern in any context, but it is particularly problematic when it occurs among patients undergoing medical treatment. Past research has shown that malnourished individuals who fall ill have a higher risk of morbidity, and may experience longer hospital stays.
At the same time, lack of nutritional expertise has been identified as a problem among hospital and home care staff. As a result, a number of countries have instituted initiatives intended to address this gap in knowledge among health care workers. Little analysis has been done, however, to substantiate whether such initiatives, in fact, have any impact on medical outcomes.
A study recently published in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition attempts to evaluate the efficacy of such nutritional training initiatives. The study was a review of existing research found on six databases: Medline (1966–2015), EMBASE and EMBASE Classic, Web of Science, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, PsycINFO, and the British Nursing Index.
Twenty-four studies were identified that met the eligibility criteria of being conducted among nutritionally vulnerable adults in health care settings where training was provided to health care staff with the objective of improving nutritional care of patients.
Studies were assessed to determine the impact of training on both learner-based (nutritional knowledge, nutritional practice and attitude to nutrition) and patient-based outcomes (body weight and composition, nutritional intake, malnutrition prevalence, functional status, e.g., physical function (handgrip strength) or cognitive function (MMSE).
Overall, analysis of the 24 studies provided some confirmation that nutrition training may improve the knowledge, practice, and nutritional attitudes of health care staff. However, the data suggesting this finding came from poor quality evidence with a high risk of bias.
In addition, patient-based outcomes were examined in 13 of the 24 studies, limiting the possibility for reliable inferences to be drawn. Only five studies reported on nutritional intake; of those, four indicated that staff training could have a beneficial effect. However, results related to other patient outcomes – prevalence of malnutrition, weight and body composition, and functional status – were inconsistent across studies.
The authors of the study suggest that there is some evidence that providing nutritional training to hospital and home care staff may have positive effects on health outcomes. However, given the poor quality of available data, further randomized controlled trials are needed to support a better understanding of the scope of potential benefits and the types of training that may be effective.
Written By: Linda Jensen
Source: Marples et al, “The effect of nutrition training for health care staff on learner and patient outcomes in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis” Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.144808