Training physicians in behavioural change counseling: A systematic review


2019 Jan;102(1):12-24. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2018.08.025. Epub 2018 Aug 19.

 Anda I Dragomir, Cassandre A Julien, Simon L Bacon, Vincent Gosselin Boucher, Kim L Lavoie, Canadian Network for Health Behavior Change and Promotion (CAN-Change)


Background: Poor health behaviours (e.g., smoking, physical inactivity) represent major underlying causes of non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs). Prescriptive behaviour change interventions employed by physicians show limited effectiveness. Physician training in evidence-based behaviour change counselling (BCC) may improve behavioural risk factor management, but the efficacy and feasibility of current programs remains unclear.

Objective: (1) To systematically review the efficacy of BCC training programs for physicians, and (2) to describe program content, dose and structure, informing better design and dissemination.

Methods: Using PRISMA guidelines, a database search up to January 2018, yielded 1889 unique articles, screened by 2 authors; 9 studies met inclusion criteria and were retained for analysis.

Results: 100% of studies reported significant improvements in BCC skills among physicians, most programs targeting provider-patient collaboration, supporting patient autonomy, and use of open questions to elicit “change-talk”. Limitation included: poor reporting quality, high program heterogeneity, small sample sizes, 78% of studies having no comparison group, and less than 30% of skills taught being formally assessed.

Conclusion: Training programs were efficacious, but methodological weaknesses limit the ability to determine content and delivery. Caution is necessary when interpreting the results.

Practice implications: Further research emphasizing rigorous training program development and testing is warranted.