Project Tests Ways to Change Health Behavior

Article excerpt

The best way for physicians to counsel patients about losing weight and leading a healthy lifestyle may be to lead by example, said Dr. Wilson Pace, a professor of family medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver.

At least that's what he will seek to find out over the next 16 months as he and his team study whether having physicians and their staff model healthy behaviors will help patients to make changes in their own lives.

Dr. Pace's project is one of 17 that will be tested by primary care practice-based research networks under a grant project seeking practical strategies to promote healthy behaviors.

The project, called Prescription for Health, is a $2.1 million research initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with additional support from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The foundation issued the first round of grants in August. More than half of the grantees are family practice networks.

The project focuses on encouraging patients to be more active, to eat healthier, to avoid or quit smoking, and to use alcohol in moderation. Unhealthy behaviors account for about 40% of premature deaths in the United States, according to the foundation.

According to Susan Hassmiller, Ph.D., senior program officer at the foundation, the focus had been on "getting America moving again" when they realized that primary care physicians could play a role in helping their patients to change their behaviors by modeling healthy behaviors themselves.

"Practice-based research networks offered us a ready-made infrastructure by which they could incorporate some of the health behavior change techniques and we could study them," said Dr. Hassmiller, who also is a registered nurse.

The grantees are looking for the most efficient techniques to allow doctors with limited time--and in most cases no reimbursement for these activities--to talk with their patients about lifestyle issues, she said.

One grant project, Leaders for Effective Activity Planning (LEAP), is focused on getting providers and patients to make basic changes in their diets and activity levels, said Dr. Pace, the principal investigator and director of the Colorado Research Network.

"You really need to get providers themselves ... dedicated to making some changes in their own lives," he said.

The goal of the LEAP project is to get the entire office staff involved in making changes to their own behaviors and then in marketing those changes to patients. The staff members who are the most successful in making healthy changes in their own life can also act as patient coaches, Dr. …

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