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J Am Board Fam Med. 2006 May-Jun;19(3):215-23.

Behavior-change action plans in primary care: a feasibility study of clinicians.

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Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of California at San Francisco, USA.



Collaborative goal-setting--with clinician and patient together deciding on concrete behavior-change goals-may be more effective in encouraging healthy behaviors than traditional clinician-directed advice. This study explores whether it is feasible for clinicians to engage patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factors in collaborative goal-setting and concrete action planning during the primary care visit.


Primary care clinicians were trained in goal-setting and action planning techniques and asked to conduct action plan discussions with study patients during medical visits. Clinicians' experiences were documented through post-visit surveys and with questionnaires and semistructured interviews at the end of the study.


Forty-three clinicians and 274 patients with CHD risk factors participated in the study; 83% of the patient encounters resulted in a behavior-change action plan. Goal-setting discussions lasted an average of 6.9 minutes. Clinicians rated 75% of the discussions as equally or more satisfying than previous behavior-change discussions, and identified time constraints as the most important barrier to adopting the goal-setting process.


Collaborative goal-setting between clinicians and patients for improved health behaviors is viewed favorably by clinicians in primary care. Time constraints could be addressed by delegating goal-setting to other caregivers.

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