Physicians also reported that they didn't have a great deal of confidence in their ability to affect change in their patients' lives. Just 11 percent of doctors-in-training, and 17 percent of attending physicians felt they could help their patients change diet-related behaviors.
Part of the problem, said Jackson, may be that doctors "tend to see people who are sick. We don't really see the patients who are going out there and exercising."
Factors that made it more likely that a physician would counsel a patient about the importance of exercise included the physician exercising more than 150 minutes a week or having been trained well in counseling. The researchers also found that overweight doctors were more likely to advise their patients to exercise.
"Every time we see a patient is an opportunity to counsel them for risk factors that kill us, like heart disease and lung cancer. We can educate and empower patients," explained Dr. Jonathan Whiteson, an assistant professor and the medical director of the Cardiac and Pulmonary Wellness and Rehabilitation Program at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
"But, this article reinforces the idea that we need to do a much better job counseling our patients," he added.
Both Whiteson and Jackson said that better training of doctors might make them feel more effective when it comes to counseling their patients. Whiteson said that role-playing exercises in medical school can be very helpful.
The bottom line, said Jackson, is that "behavior is hard to change. We can't just give you a pill and make you change. But, talking with your patients can help. You may have just seen someone who found a way to make lifestyle changes work, and you can share that with your other patients."
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