Background: Treating multiple health behavior risks on a population basis is one of the most promising approaches to enhancing health and reducing health care costs. Previous research demonstrated the efficacy of expert system interventions for three behaviors in a population of parents. The interventions provide individualized feedback that guides participants through the stages of change for each of their risk behaviors. This study extended that research to a more representative population of patients from primary care practice and to targeting of four rather than three behaviors.
Methods: Stage-based expert systems were applied to reduce smoking, improve diet, decrease sun exposure, and prevent relapse from regular mammography. A randomized clinical controlled trial recruited 69.2% of primary care patients (N = 5407) at home via telephone. Three intervention contacts were delivered for each risk factor at 0, 6, and 12 months. The primary outcome measures were the percentages of at-risk patients at baseline who progressed to the action or maintenance stages at 24-month follow-up for each of the risk behaviors.
Results: Significant treatment effects were found for each of the four behaviors, with 25.4% of intervention patients in action or maintenance for smoking, 28.8% for diet, and 23.4% for sun exposure. The treatment group had less relapse from regular mammography than the control group (6% vs. 10%).
Conclusion: Proactive, home-based, and stage-matched expert systems can produce relatively high population impacts on multiple behavior risks for cancer and other chronic diseases.