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Malnutrition, Long Neglected, Needs Doctors' Attention

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, June 6, 2013

Relatively common among hospital patients, malnutrition is often overlooked by physicians. But improving nutrition intervention procedures not only raises quality of care, it can also reduce both hospital costs and readmissions.

The obesity epidemic in this country is rightly of deep concern to physicians and hospitals, but it obscures another deep-seated, but often less talked about problem: malnutrition.

Many people mistakenly believe that only exceedingly thin people are at risk of malnourishment. In fact, inadequate nutrition is an "invisible" condition. Malnutrition is relatively common among patients in hospitals, but is often overlooked by clinical staff.

At least one in three patients may enter a hospital malnourished, which increases their risk for complications and potential costly readmissions, Melissa Parkhurst, MD, FHM, an associate professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center, tells me.  

Too often, the malnutrition goes unrecognized and unscreened, she says.

That's also the consensus of The Alliance to Advance Patient Nutrition, a partnership including five healthcare organizations that says it is working diligently to improve patient outcomes by improving nutrition intervention by physicians and hospitals.  

Parkhurst is a physician member of the alliance, which includes leaders from the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the American Society for Parental and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN), the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHN) and Abbott Nutrition.  

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