Wollongong Hospital dietitian Kelly Lambert's efforts to help malnourished patients have been recognised with a national dietitians award.
Ms Lambert recently received the Dietitians Association of Australia's (DAA) 2014 Emerging Researcher Award for her research into "nutrition as medication" in malnourished hospital patients.
The research, published in DAA's journal, Nutrition and Dietetics, found that malnutrition was a "common and under-recognised problem" in the nation's hospitals.
"Statistics show that one in three Australian patients are malnourished," she said. "And in particular, hospital populations - like the renal or geriatric wards - up to 80 per cent of patients can be malnourished.
"Making sure they get enough calories and protein is critical as malnutrition delays recovery from illness, which can prolong hospital admissions and can also lead to other complications."
Ms Lambert's research identified a number of barriers to malnourished patients receiving the additional nutrition prescribed by dietitians.
"An effective way of getting malnourished patients to take in extra calories is through a liquid supplement, which is equivalent in nutrition to a roast dinner," she said.
"Nurses had told us that it wasn't working and patients were refusing it but when we actually audited the process, we found that on six out of 10 occasions, patients didn't even get the supplement.
"This was due to nurses being interrupted on their medication round, the supplement not being delivered to the ward and the complicated process in prescribing it."
Since conducting the research in 2009, Ms Lambert has been able to break down those barriers at hospitals within the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, and hopes other hospitals will follow suit.
"This research highlights some of the barriers malnourished patients may experience when in hospital and by examining these, and working more closely with other staff, we as dietitians can make a big difference," Ms Lambert said.