Communication-related behavior change techniques used in face-to-face lifestyle interventions in primary care: a systematic review of the literature

Patient Educ Couns. 2012 Nov;89(2):227-44. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2012.07.006. Epub 2012 Aug 9.


Objectives: To systematically review the literature on the relative effectiveness of face-to-face communication-related behavior change techniques (BCTs) provided in primary care by either physicians or nurses to intervene on patients' lifestyle behavior.

Methods: PubMed, EMBASE, PsychINFO, CINAHL and The Cochrane Library were searched for studies published before October 2010. Fifty studies were included and assessed on methodological quality.

Results: Twenty-eight studies reported significantly favorable health outcomes following communication-related BCTs. In these studies, 'behavioral counseling' was most frequently used (15 times), followed by motivational interviewing (eight times), education and advice (both seven times). Physicians and nurses seem equally capable of providing face-to-face communication-related BCTs in primary care.

Conclusion: Behavioral counseling, motivational interviewing, education and advice all seem effective communication-related BCTs. However, BCTs were also found in less successful studies. Furthermore, based on existing literature, one primary care profession does not seem better equipped than the other to provide face-to-face communication-related BCTs.

Practice implications: There is evidence that behavioral counseling, motivational interviewing, education and advice can be used as effective communication-related BCTs by physicians and nurses. However, further research is needed to examine the underlying working mechanisms of communication-related BCTs, and whether they meet the requirements of patients and primary care providers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Style*
  • Motivational Interviewing / methods*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Primary Health Care / methods*