Ninety-nine percent of doctors believe that part of their job is to encourage their patients to live a healthier lifestyle, but very few actually do it
(14 February 2007: VIDYYA MEDICAL NEWS SERVICE) -- Israeli doctors believe that part of their job is to encourage their patients towards a healthier lifestyle, better nutrition, exercise and avoiding smoking, but new research conducted by the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa found large gaps between this idea and its actual implementation. While 99% of the doctors surveyed said that they believe that educating their patients toward a healthier lifestyle is part of their job, 80% said they don't do it due to lack of time. Half of the doctors said that they don't get paid to educate their patients and 40% found it difficult to integrate lifestyle counseling into their clinical practice.
"There are some obstacles that prevent doctors from doing what they believe is their job. In the end, a doctor that doesn't have the means, ability or belief that he can actually change his patients' behaviors will say he doesn't have time, that he isn't paid to do this or that it doesn't interest him," explains Iris Dagan who conducted the research among 218 community physicians. According to Ms. Dagan, patients see their doctor as an authority figure and that there is a good chance that they would accept a doctor's recommendations and change their health-related behaviors.
Dagan's research revealed a few reasons why doctors feel more or less confident in their ability to bring about behavioral changes in their patients. "If, as part of his education, a doctor were to get training in how to counsel a patient to live a healthier lifestyle, he would be more apt to effect change and more confident in his ability to do so. A doctor who never received proper training and doesn't know how to counsel his patients to change their habits will prefer not to discuss the issue with his patients, believing that he is not skilled in this area," explained Ms. Dagan.
Another reason is doctors' health lifestyles. A doctor who maintains a healthy lifestyle will be more apt to educate his patients; a doctor who doesn't will be more reluctant. "There is a difference between treating a specific complaint or illness and counseling patients to live a healthy lifestyle. In Israel, as in other places in the world, a doctor is a recognized authority on healthy behaviors. Therefore, health policy makers need to outline and implement new strategies that will advance doctors' status as healthy lifestyle counselors and enable them to give their patients advice on things they believe in," explained Dagan.
Throughout the world, doctors are recognized behavioral counselors. Recently, the Israeli health system has begun organizing ways to enable doctors to share this knowledge with their patients. Dagan remarked that she would like to see changes in the health system that would encourage more doctors to counsel their patients to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
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