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Year : 2000  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 387-397

Improving Physician-delivered Counseling in a Primary Care Setting: Lessons from a Failed Attempt

Center for Methodology and Health Research, Philipps–University Marburg, Germany

Correspondence Address:
Stefan Keller
Institute for Medical Psychology, Philipps–University Marburg, Bunsenstr. 3, 35033 Marburg
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Background: The high prevalence of behavioral risk factors for cardiovascular diseases demands innovative approaches to achieving behavior change. Primary care physicians are in an ideal position for offering such interventions. Purpose: To evaluate whether training of primary care physicians in counseling skills based on the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) leads to motivational and behavioral changes in their patients. Method: Seventy-four primary care physicians in Germany were randomly assigned to either an intervention condition (one day of training in TTM-based counseling plus brochures matched to their patients' "stages of change") or a control condition (usual care). Baseline and 12-month follow-up data were collected from 305 of their patients who signed up for a health check-up. Outcome measure: Patients' movements across the stages of change for smoking, diet, exercise and stress management. Results: After 12 months, patients of physicians in the intervention group did not show more movement through the stages of change for any of the behaviors than did patients of control physicians. Additionally, there were no differences between groups in counseling frequency, counseling intensity, or patient satisfaction with counseling. Conclusions: A high dropout rate at follow-up and resulting "power" problems limit the possible conclusions. The high numbers of patients in early stages of change and the minimal improvement over time underline the need for improving motivational counseling skills of primary care physicians in Germany. In our study the dissemination of these strategies failed. We offer lessons we feel can be learned from this outcome. Further studies should focus on ways to enhance the process of educating physicians for implementing counseling strategies in primary care settings.

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