Patients follow through when docs do

Patients tend to follow through when physicians practice what they preach

Patients tend to respond to certain physician recommendations -- seeking out flu shots, undergoing mammography -- if physicians themselves take after their own tips, according to a study conducted by University British Columbia (UBC) and Israeli researchers.

"We found that patients whose physicians adhered to the recommended screening or vaccination practices were significantly more likely to also undergo screening or vaccination compared with patients of non-compliant physicians," said Erica Frank, MD, of UBC's School of Population and Public Health in a prepared statement surrounding the research.

Frank and colleagues scavenged the screening and vaccination regimens of 1,488 physicians in the realms of mammography, blood pressure measurement, colorectal screening, annual influenza vaccinations and others — an endeavor that also involved the responding behaviors of some 1.9 million adult patients — at Clalit Health Services (CHS), Israel’s largest healthcare organization.

According to the study findings, 49 percent of patients whose doctors received an influenza vaccine also underwent vaccination, compared to the 43 percent of patients who sought flu shots even though their physicians were not vaccinated. Such was the case for all eight indicators assessed by the research cohort.

“We found a consistent, positive relation between physicians' and patients' preventive health practices,” wrote the study authors. “Objectively establishing this healthy doctor-healthy patient relation should encourage prevention-oriented healthcare systems to better support and evaluate the effects on patients of improving the physical health of medical students and physicians.”

"While physicians' health habits are generally exemplary, doctors could improve some of their personal screening and vaccination practices, which should improve the health practices of their patients," Frank concluded.

To achieve such an aim, researchers suggested that medical schools, hospitals, practices and other healthcare organizations implement programs geared toward driving better physician health by highlighting the apparent correspondence between physician health and patient health.

The study was published in the April 8 issue of Canadian Medical Association Journal.