Objective: This qualitative study of health care clinicians serving women at heightened risk of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy was undertaken to explore concepts underlying reproductive health counseling messages in clinical encounters.
Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 31 clinicians, including physicians and advanced practice nurses serving primarily low-income patients in high-risk communities throughout the U.S.
Results: Most of the clinicians describe their influence on patients and protective behaviors as derived from medical authority and the presentation of information. The use of a parental style of authority, particularly for young or vulnerable patients, and emotional appeals to evoke negative emotions, such as fear, were also used to motivate protective behaviors. Many clinicians highlighted the importance of empathy, and understanding the cultural and social context of health behaviors. A few clinicians described innovative efforts to empower women to protect themselves and exert more control in relationships.
Conclusion: Some of the reproductive health counseling approaches described by clinicians are not consistent with leading health behavior change theories or patient-centered counseling.
Practical implications: To improve counseling, these messages and concepts need to be evaluated for effectiveness, and possibly used to inform the development of novel theories for use in reproductive health counseling.
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