Approximately 40% of deaths in the USA are attributable to modifiable health behaviours. Despite clear recommendations and practice guidelines, primary care physicians (PCPs) generally do not dedicate much time to addressing health behaviours, thereby missing opportunities to improve patient well-being.
To examine what health behaviour change techniques PCPs use with their patients, including frequency of use, confidence in and perceived effectiveness of those interventions.
Using a cross-sectional study design, family medicine resident and faculty physicians (n = 68) from three residency training programs completed an anonymous online survey. Questions explored their use of, confidence in and perceived effectiveness of health behaviour change interventions for six domains: physical activity, healthy eating, medication adherence, smoking cessation, sleep and alcohol reduction. Qualitative responses to open-ended questions were double coded by two independent raters. PCPs’ open-ended responses to questions regarding specific intervention techniques were coded using an evidence-based behaviour change taxonomy.
Although PCPs indicated that they address health behaviour topics quite frequently with their patients, they reported only moderate confidence and low-to-moderate perceived effectiveness with their interventions. The most frequently cited technique was providing instruction (telling patients what to do). PCPs reported lowest frequency of addressing, lowest confidence and lowest effectiveness regarding helping patients decrease their use of alcohol. Insufficient time and perceived low patient motivation were commonly cited barriers.
These findings highlight the need for the development and evaluation of educational curricula to teach physicians brief, evidence-based approaches to helping patients make these changes in their health-related behaviours.

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