Health professionals' knowledge, practice and opinions about fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol consumption in pregnancy

Authors

  • Jan Payne,

    Corresponding author
    1. Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Centre for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia, Western Australia
      Ms Jan Payne, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, PO Box 855, West Perth, Western Australia 6872. Fax: (08) 9489 7700; e-mail: janp@ichr.uwa.edu.au
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  • Elizabeth Elliott,

    1. Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Sydney, New South Wales; The Children's Hospital at Westmead, New South Wales; and the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit, New South Wales
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  • Heather D'Antoine,

    1. Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Centre for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia, Western Australia
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  • Colleen O'Leary,

    1. Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Centre for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia, Western Australia
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  • Anne Mahony,

    1. Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Centre for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia, Western Australia
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  • Eric Haan,

    1. Department of Genetic Medicine, Women's and Children's Hospital, South Australia; and the Department of Paediatrics, University of Adelaide, South Australia
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  • Carolyn Bower

    1. Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Centre for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia, Western Australia
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Ms Jan Payne, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, PO Box 855, West Perth, Western Australia 6872. Fax: (08) 9489 7700; e-mail: janp@ichr.uwa.edu.au

Abstract

Objective: To measure the knowledge, attitudes and practices of health professionals regarding fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and alcohol use during pregnancy.

Method: A postal survey of a representative random sample of health professionals was conducted in Western Australia (WA) in 2002/03. 1,143 (79%) of 1,443 eligible health professionals completed the survey (87 Aboriginal Health Workers, 286 allied health professionals, 537 community nurses, 170 general practitioners and 63 obstetricians).

Results: Of 1,143 health professionals, 12% identified all four essential diagnostic features of FAS. Most (95%) had never diagnosed FAS. Although 82% believed that making a diagnosis of FAS might improve treatment plans and 85% agreed FAS was preventable, 53% said the diagnosis might be stigmatising. Only 2% felt very prepared to deal with FAS and most wanted information for themselves and their clients. Of the 659 health professionals caring for pregnant women, only 45% routinely ask about alcohol use in pregnancy, only 25% routinely provide information on the consequences of alcohol use in pregnancy and only 13% provide advice consistent with NHMRC guidelines on alcohol consumption in pregnancy.

Conclusion: Health professionals have identified the need for educational materials for themselves and their clients.

Implications: FAS is likely to be under-ascertained in Australia due to a lack of knowledge of FAS by health professionals. Until this lack of knowledge is addressed, opportunities for diagnosis and prevention of FAS will be limited.

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