Initiation of health behavior discussions during primary care outpatient visits

Susan A. Flocke, Robert Kelly, Janelle Highland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Objective: Despite the importance of health promotion, rates of health behavior advice remain low and little is known about how advice is integrated into routine primary care. This study examines how health behavior topics of diet, physical activity and smoking are initiated during outpatient visits. Methods: Audio recording of 187 adults visit to five purposefully selected physicians. An iterative analysis involved listening to and discussing cases to identify emergent patterns of initiation of health behavior talk and advice that followed. Results: Physicians initiated 65% of discussions and used two overarching strategies (1) Structured: a routine to ask about health behavior and (2) Opportunistic: use of a trigger to make a transition to talk about health behavior. Opportunistic strategies identified a greater proportion of patients at risk (50% vs. 34%) and led to a greater rate of advice (100% vs. 75%). Patients initiated one-third of health behavior discussions and were more likely to receive advice if they explicitly indicated readiness to change. Conclusions: Opportunistic strategies show promise for a higher yield of identifying patients at risk and leading to advice. Practice Implications: Encouraging patients to be explicit about their readiness to change is likely to increase physician advice and assistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-219
Number of pages6
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinician-patient communication
  • Health behavior change
  • Practice-based research
  • Primary care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Initiation of health behavior discussions during primary care outpatient visits'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this