Efficiency and patient satisfaction with nutrition assistants for a cancer clinic

Ms Lauren Atkins1, Dr Nicole Kiss1,2, Ms Sarah Gilliland1, Ms Jacq Black1, Ms Lauren Muir1

1Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Australia, 2University of Mebourne, Melbourne, Australia

Aim: At Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, patients with head and neck (H&N) cancer receiving curative intent (chemo)radiation are managed in a twice-weekly multidisciplinary clinic. Patients are seen by a dietitian weekly during treatment and fortnightly up to six weeks post-treatment. However, dietitians have limited time to manage complex H&N patients. Nutrition assistants (NA) work in the inpatient and ambulatory settings, performing malnutrition screening and basic nutrition intervention for low risk patients. This study evaluated the effectiveness of implementing the NA role for screening and intervention of lower risk patients in the multidisciplinary head and neck clinic.

Methods: A training module and model of care were established to upskill the NA and guide the screening and interventions to be undertaken. Outcomes pre- and post-implementation of the NA role were compared including proportion of dietitian time spent with high risk patients, weight change during and post-radiotherapy and patient satisfaction assessed at 6-weeks post-treatment using a valid satisfaction questionnaire.

Results: Forty-three patients were included pre-implementation and 48 patients post-implementation with 21 (44%) of patients identified for NA screening/ intervention. Proportion of dietitian time spent with high risk patients improved post-implementation (84% vs. 62%). Mean weight change was similar between the groups during radiotherapy (-5.6% vs. -4.7%, p=0.3) and up to 4 weeks post-radiotherapy (-6.6% vs. -6.49%, p=0.9). Significant improvement in overall patient satisfaction (4.0 + 1.1 vs 4.6 + 0.61, p=.03), patient perceived benefit (3.8 + 0.69 vs 4.4 + 0.62, p<.01) and dietitian interpersonal skills (3.91 + 1.1 vs 4.6 + 0.55, p=.02) were observed post-implementation.

Significance of the findings to allied health: Nutrition assistants are an effective workforce to manage low risk patients in a multidisciplinary H&N treatment clinic demonstrating maintenance of clinical outcomes, improved efficiency and increased patient satisfaction.