Objectives: To assess pediatrician goals and practice in preventive counseling, and to use social learning theory to examine physician attitudes about preventive health issues, time, and reimbursement to explain physician counseling behavior.
Design: Random sample survey of American Academy of Pediatrics fellows.
Participants: A total of 1620 pediatricians were surveyed with a return rate of 72%. The 556 pediatricians who had finished training and who currently performed child health supervision were included.
Methods: Pediatricians were asked about their goals in 6 areas of health supervision: biomedical issues, development, behavior, family functioning, safety education, and supportive interpersonal interaction. They were also asked about the prevalence of counseling, importance of specific topics, their self-efficacy, outcome expectation in these areas, and their concerns about time and reimbursement for preventive counseling.
Results: Assurance of physical health and normal development were the most important goals of child health supervision among the pediatricians surveyed. Goals involving behavioral, family, and safety issues were less important and less likely to be addressed in practice. Most did not regularly discuss family stress, substance abuse, gun safety, and television. In these areas, physicians had less confidence they could provide guidance and lower expectation that they could prevent problems. Only 17% felt that they receive adequate reimbursement for preventive counseling. Most have adequate time (53%) and receive adequate respect (57%) for their preventive efforts. Physicians who were more concerned about time for preventive counseling reported less overall counseling (r = -0.28, P<.001). Concern about reimbursement was not associated with reported counseling. Multiple regression analysis found that the primary predictors of physician counseling were an issue's importance, a physician's perceived self-efficacy, and perceived effectiveness of counseling, while concerns about time and reimbursement were secondary.
Conclusions: Physician goals in child health supervision were primarily biomedical, with psychosocial and safety issues of lesser importance. Concern about time for preventive counseling was associated with less reported counseling. Physician attitudes regarding the importance of a health issue and their confidence and effectiveness in counseling were more predictive of physician practice than their attitudes about time and reimbursement for preventive care.