Objective: To estimate internists' use of disease prevention and health promotion activities, and to explore demographic, professional, behavioral, psychological, cognitive, and organizational factors associated with the use of such practices.
Design: Mail survey.
Setting and subjects: A sample of 2610 members and fellows of the American College of Physicians (ACP) participated in the study. They engaged in patient care activities more than 20 hours per week and were stratified by gender and region. They lived in four geographic areas of the United States (Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West), comprising 21 ACP regions.
Measurements: A questionnaire requesting background information as well as information about personal health; record keeping; use of immunizations (pneumococcal, influenza, tetanus, hepatitis B); use of screening tests and procedures for detecting cancer (breast examination, Papanicolaou smear, stool occult blood test) and other diseases (electrocardiograms, cholesterol level tests, chest radiographs); and behavioral counseling to promote health (in the areas of smoking, exercise, and alcohol and seat belt use).
Main results: Internists used effective preventive interventions less frequently and ineffective practices more frequently than experts recommend. Internists' use of health promotion and disease prevention activities is associated with habit, attitude, and a lack of adequate knowledge. Younger physician age, general internal medicine practice, and personal health promotion and disease prevention practices were strongly associated with more appropriate use of recommended practices (P less than 0.01).
Conclusions: Internists' use of disease prevention and health promotion activities falls short of expert recommendations. Programs to improve the delivery of preventive services might be aimed at improving physicians' personal health practices, might be directed toward patients, and might include the development of effective systems to remind physicians.