Further education key to guiding patients towards healthy lifestyles

Morgan Liotta

5/09/2019 12:19:47 PM

Results from a recent survey indicate GPs would benefit from more professional development opportunities and clinical decision-making tools.

RACGP document
Time and limited resources may be restricting GPs from providing effective advice on adopting healthy lifestyle habits.

The RACGP Shaping a Healthy Australia project team conducted the ‘National physical activity and nutrition counselling survey’ in May this year, exploring views and attitudes about physical activity and nutrition counselling in Australian general practice.
A 10-minute online questionnaire was distributed nationwide to GPs and general practice registrars.
A total of 842 people participated in the survey, with 657 responses completed and considered for analysis – 572 GPs and 85 general practice registrars.
The RACGP has published the results in its Views and attitudes towards physical activity and nutrition counselling in general practice: National survey report, 2019.
Key findings indicate that most GPs consider it their role to give physical activity and nutritional advice to their patients, and that they are ideally placed to do so.
However, GPs also reported that time constraints can prevent counselling beyond broad advice, and upskilling in providing brief but effective advice and motivation to patients would be useful.
Professor Mark Harris, Chair of the Shaping a Healthy Australia Working Group, told newsGP that although most GPs are ‘fairly confident’ in providing counselling to their patients, they may be less so when it comes to motivational interviewing, with time management a key factor.
‘Support for patients to change their diet and physical activity to improve their health is a core role for general practice,’ Professor Harris said.
‘We often think that we are doing things like measuring BMI and waist circumference more often than we really do so. 
‘The biggest barriers to a greater role [of counselling] are lack of time and a feeling that it won’t make a difference.’
Professor Harris believes credible and consistent advice, especially about diet, and support for brief interventions would benefit GPs.
‘GPs and registrars need practical training in delivery of brief effective counselling on nutrition and exercise for their patients,’ he said.
‘This should include practical tools such as guides for discussion with patients, information on evidence-based options and goal-setting, tools such as activity trackers and apps, and referral and further information, including online resources, telephone coaching.’ 
The Shaping a Healthy Australia project aims to support GPs, general practice registrars and practice nurses by:

  • encouraging behaviour-change in their patients regarding healthy eating, physical activity and lifestyle
  • developing tools and resources for them to effectively encourage patients to adopt positive lifestyle changes, particularly those with high risk factors
  • ensuring they develop the knowledge, skills and confidence in physical and nutritional literacy via training and continuous professional development.
In addition to the Views and attitudes towards physical activity and nutrition counselling in general practice: National survey report, 2019, the RACGP has a number of resources to assist general practice teams in delivering healthy lifestyle advice:

motivational interviewing nutrition physical activity preventive health

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