Background: Lifestyle advice given by general practitioners (GPs) may be a cost-effective means of health promotion; however, it is not fully put into routine practice. The aim of this study was to explore to what extent GPs' patients expect and receive advice concerning alcohol, tobacco, exercise and diet in relation to sociodemographic characteristics, type of visit and patient satisfaction.
Methods: A postal questionnaire was sent to a representative sample (n = 9750) of patients who had consulted GPs in a county in Sweden. The response rate was 69% (n = 6734).
Results: Exercise was the most (16%) and alcohol the least (5%) common type of advice. The patients received advice more often than they expected in all areas except alcohol. The patients reported the highest rate of unfulfilled advice expectation and the lowest rate of unexpected advice in the case of alcohol. Male gender, poorer self-rated health and scheduled appointment were independent predictors of all types of advice. Continuity of GP contact was only favourable for exercise and diet advice. The patients who received advice were more satisfied with their visit to the doctor.
Conclusions: A tertiary preventive perspective guides GPs' practice of giving advice. Male patients with advanced illnesses are given priority. Women and patients with long-term risk habits are more neglected. The GPs tend to misjudge the expectations and needs of their patients and are too restrained in their counselling practice. Alcohol is the most disregarded area of advice in proportion to the patients' expectations and needs.