You can see a doctor and you can see a dietitian. They’re both looking out for your health. But, why is it worthwhile for them to work together?

1. A jack of all trades is a master of none

On the path to our respective careers, doctors and dietitians study very different things. Even though we’re ultimately trying to improve the health of our clients, our knowledge base is very different. For example, doctors thoroughly understand the detection and treatment of a broad range of health issues. Doctors are the first point of call for most people seeking medical help. They have to be able to recognise and diagnose an incredible variety of diseases and conditions. Not only that, doctors understand how to treat these conditions with the correct medications and therapies! A dizzying level of knowledge.

On the other hand, dietitians focus more closely on one aspect of health – the nutrients in your food. We study how they operate, biochemically, in your body and how different diseases and conditions can change your nutrient needs. We also thoroughly understand how to practically apply that nutrient information. We can translate that information into food on your plate, day after day!

The research and evidence around diet is constantly growing and evolving. And the research and evidence around medications and disease detection is also constantly growing and evolving. It would be impossible to be 100% up-to-date with the best practice guidelines for all of these aspects of health. So we divide and conquer. We become experts in our own field. By working together doctors and dietitians can provide you with the most up-to-date advice. 

2. A holistic approach

With that said, it’s clear that if your doctor and your dietitian’s skill-sets are different, together they can give you a comprehensive treatment approach. This is exactly what the research indicates. Multidisciplinary teams are groups of health care providers from a range of different backgrounds, who come together to find the best treatment or management plan for a client. There are a number of studies on multidisciplinary teams in cancer management, diabetes management, treatment of cardiovascular disease and mental health management. This research shows considerable improvements for many health outcomes when professionals work together in multidisciplinary teams.

Imagine a doctor and dietitian working together to help a client manage gastrointestinal issues. A doctor may consider underlying causes like coeliacs disease, inflammatory bowel disease or a bacterial or parasitic infection. They may also consider which medications could help to reduce symptoms like intestinal muscle cramping or constipation. A dietitian may consider the amount of fibre a client is consuming, their hydration level or possible food intolerances.  A dietitian may then provide practical strategies on how to adjust these things. On their own, a doctor or dietitian may not have the whole picture, but together they provide a holistic approach to good health. Whether your health concern is weight loss, chronic disease management or preventing illness your doctor and dietitian can work together in a multidisciplinary team for the best results.

3. Practical steps and monitoring progress

There is no point making changes to our diet and lifestyle if we don’t know whether it’s improving your health. There’s no point measuring our health if we don’t have any practical ways of changing. Doctors and dietitians work really well together in this way. 

A pretty good example of this is cholesterol management. You might have gone to the doctor for a blood test, which indicates that you have high cholesterol. The doctor may give you some suggestions or maybe medications but is often limited by time. It’s difficult to get all the information and make SMART goals in a short consultation. A dietitian can help you to identify the most effective areas to tweak and help you develop practical strategies to lower your cholesterol. After giving these things a go, but how do you know whether it’s working? You need to get another blood test.

The same is true for managing weight loss and other conditions such as insulin resistance. As your dietitian helps you to make food and lifestyle changes, your needs from your doctor may change. Medication doses may need to be reduced or changed. Other referrals to specialists may need to be made. If your doctor and dietitian are communicating openly they can tailor and adjust your treatment in a really effective way. 

4. Consistency

Many of the clients I see have received conflicting information from their healthcare providers. Combine this with the wealth of conflicting information online and anyone could become paralysed by food choices. Eat lots of this. Don’t eat that. This is good. That is bad.

When your doctor and dietitian are communicating with one another, you are far less likely to get these mixed messages. In many cases, I have raised concerns directly with doctors. By discussing issues and barriers directly we are often able to develop a much more suitable plan. The client receives consistent recommendations and then both the doctor and I can provide support for that plan.

5. Management of chronic disease

Chronic diseases (like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome and many more) are highly complex and a multidisciplinary approach is vital for the best management.

GPs and allied health professionals often work together with clients who have chronic conditions through a Medicare Team Care Arrangement (formally known as Enhanced Primary Care or EPC). This arrangement allows eligible clients to claim some of their allied health services, including dietetic services, through Medicare. Support through Medicare can help to reduce the financial burden of managing a chronic health condition.

If you are unsure whether you are eligible for a Team Care Arrangement, speak to your doctor.

In practising as a dietitian, I have learned a lot about the value of working with other health professionals, particularly doctors. I have seen the confusion that clients experience from a lack of communication between GPs and nutrition professionals. At the Healthy Eating Clinic we work closely with GPs to try and achieve the best support for you as a client.

So if you are wanting the most effective multidisciplinary support, ask your doctor about working with us to improve your health and wellbeing! 

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