The counseling practices of internists

Ann Intern Med. 1991 Jan 1;114(1):54-8. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-114-1-54.


Objectives: To determine the counseling practices of a group of internists in the areas of smoking, exercise, and alcohol and seat belt use, and to determine the associations among physicians' personal health habits and their counseling practices.

Design: A random stratified sample of members and fellows of the American College of Physicians in 21 regions selected to represent all areas of the United States. Because of the relatively small proportion of women in this group, they were oversampled.

Setting: Physicians' practices.

Participants: One thousand three hundred and forty-nine internists (members or fellows of the College) returned questionnaires, for a response rate of 75%; 52% defined themselves as general internists.

Interventions: A questionnaire was used to obtain information on internists' use of cigarettes, alcohol, and seat belts and their level of physical activity. Data were obtained on the indications used for counseling and the aggressiveness of counseling about each of these four habits.

Measurements and main results: Bivariate and logistic regression analyses were used to compare the tendencies of internist subgroups both in using various indications for counseling and in the thoroughness of counseling. Generalists were more likely than specialists to counsel at least once all patients who were at risk and to be more aggressive in counseling. Ninety percent of respondents counseled all of their patients who smoked, but 64.5% never discussed the use of seat belts. Only 3.8% of these internists currently smoked cigarettes, 11.3% drank alcohol daily, 38.7% were extremely or quite active, and 87.3% used seat belts all or most of the time. Among men internists, for every habit except alcohol use, personal health practices were substantially associated with counseling patients; for example, nonsmoking internists were more likely to counsel smokers, and very physically active internists were more likely to counsel about exercise. Among women internists, being very physically active was associated with counseling more patients about exercise and alcohol use.

Conclusions: The low level of self-reported counseling among these internists suggests that further emphasis on training in these skills is needed. The association between personal and professional practices suggests that medical schools and housestaff training programs should support health promotion activities for future internists.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Counseling*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sampling Studies
  • Seat Belts / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking Prevention
  • United States