Medical system pays little attention to behavior counseling

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite solid evidence that fairly simple and inexpensive changes in behavior can help Americans get healthier, the translation of that research into practice by the medical system remains haphazard, according to a survey of doctors, HMOs and public health leaders.

The study, issued by the Center for the Advancement of Health, suggests that the solution is to incorporate behavior counseling into the routine office visit.

About half of American adults are living with chronic, but manageable, health conditions, and they visit a doctor an average of 3.1 times a year, according to the Center. More than half of all premature deaths are preventable by modest changes in behavior.

"There is abundant evidence that when health care professionals converse briefly with their patients about risk reduction, illness management and pharmacy use, there is a likelihood that those patients will do better; they are more likely to attempt and succeed at changing poor health habits, more likely to participate in screening, less likely to use unneeded health care services over time, more likely to take the right medicines the right way and better able to engage in work and play," the report concludes.

"Systematically increasing counseling about prevention, adherence and illness management as part of routine medical care has significant potential to improve the health of individuals and the public," it continues.

The Center's Executive Director, Jessie C. Gruman, Ph.D., explains, "Advice from doctors and nurses carries a lot of weight with most people, and the impact of that advice increases when the professional is chosen by the individual and the advice is personal."

The study, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, examined the roles of physician training, of health system impediments to behavior counseling and of patient involvement, among other factors. The findings result from interviews with 41 physicians or other medical practit

Contact: Ira Allen
Center for the Advancement of Health

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