• evaluation;
  • health services;
  • workforce



To describe the daily tasks undertaken by dietitians working within the inpatient and outpatient sectors within the NSW public hospital system.


This study used an ethnographic methodology that employed a direct, non-participatory, discontinuous, observational technique to observe hospital dietitians, in both outpatient and inpatient settings, during a typical work shift. Trained volunteer observers collected the data over a three-year period (2008, 2009 and 2010). The data were combined and then sorted into five categories including: direct patient care, indirect patient care, communication, administration and education of self or others.


A total of 609 hours and 21 minutes were observed across a three-year time period 2008–2010. On average, the dietitians in both inpatient and outpatient settings spent 18.3–32.2% of their time in direct patient care activities. The majority of time was spent in indirect patient care activities such as: information collection, documentation and discussion with other health-care professionals. A comparison between the two work settings showed that those dietitians working in the inpatient setting spent less time in direct patient care (18.3% vs 33.1%, P < 0.05), and more time in indirect care activities (41.7% vs 23.3%, P < 0.05) and in communication about patient care (22.7% vs 14.4%, P < 0.05).


The findings show that dietitians spend most of their time doing activities that support patient care, but these activities occur away from the patient.