Understanding the scope and practice of behavioral medicine in family medicine

Fam Med. 2009 Sep;41(8):578-84.


Background and objectives: Family medicine integrates psychosocial factors (behavioral, psychological, cognitive, social, and cultural) into the comprehensive medical care of patients. Behavioral medicine is the discipline representing the contribution of the behavioral sciences to medicine and encompasses a broad field of knowledge and practice. This research explores the understanding of the scope and practice of behavioral medicine among academic family physicians.

Methods: Surveys were administered to physicians at nine family medicine residency programs in Florida.

Results: Study participants reported being trained in and using behavioral medicine techniques and consultants with patients. Behavioral medicine was valued as a collection of techniques for the prevention and treatment of physical and psychiatric illness. Physicians emphasized the utility of behavioral specialists' skills in conditions with strong psychological components compared to other chronic medical conditions. Behavioral medicine techniques were associated with traditional psychotherapeutic interventions and often provided by nonpsychiatric physicians. Many physicians categorized behavioral medicine as a type of complementary and alternative medicine.

Conclusions: Behavioral medicine is valued but not strongly identified as a distinct discipline, which might affect its use. This may explain why behavioral medicine skills were differentially valued for the prevention and treatment of psychiatric illness compared to medical illness.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Behavioral Medicine*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Faculty, Medical
  • Family Practice / education
  • Family Practice / methods*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency
  • Physicians, Family*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires