Hospital malnutrition: prevalence, identification and impact on patients and the healthcare system.
Malnutrition is a debilitating and highly prevalent condition in the acute hospital setting, with Australian and international studies reporting rates of approximately 40%. Malnutrition is associated with many adverse outcomes including depression of the immune system, impaired wound healing, muscle wasting, longer lengths of hospital stay, higher treatment costs and increased mortality. Referral rates for dietetic assessment and treatment of malnourished patients have proven to be suboptimal, thereby increasing the likelihood of developing such aforementioned complications. Nutrition risk screening using a validated tool is a simple technique to rapidly identify patients at risk of malnutrition, and provides a basis for prompt dietetic referrals. In Australia, nutrition screening upon hospital admission is not mandatory, which is of concern knowing that malnutrition remains under-reported and often poorly documented. Unidentified malnutrition not only heightens the risk of adverse complications for patients, but can potentially result in foregone reimbursements to the hospital through casemix-based funding schemes. It is strongly recommended that mandatory nutrition screening be widely adopted in line with published best-practice guidelines to effectively target and reduce the incidence of hospital malnutrition.
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