Direct observation and patient recall of health behavior advice

Prev Med. 2004 Mar;38(3):343-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2003.11.004.


Background: Patient recall of health behavior change discussions with physicians is an important intermediate outcome to adherence with recommendations and subsequent behavior change. This study reports patient recall of health behavior discussions during outpatient visits and tests patient and visit characteristics associated with recall.

Methods: In a cross-sectional study of 2670 adult outpatients visiting 138 family physicians in 84 practices, provision of health behavior advice was measured by direct observation. Patient recall of discussion of each health behavior topic was assessed by patient survey.

Results: Patient recall rates ranged from 11% for substance use assessment to 75% of smokers recalling smoking cessation advice. Patient demographics were not associated with recall. In multivariable models, the strongest predictor of patient recall of diet and exercise advice was the duration of the advice. Advice provided during well care visits was more likely to be recalled by patients than during illness visits, but presence of a health behavior-relevant diagnosis during an illness visit was associated with a 2-fold increase in patient recall.

Conclusions: Patient recall of health behavior advice is enhanced by longer duration of advice and by linking advice to visit contexts that represent teachable moments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Diet
  • Educational Status
  • Exercise
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Smoking