Identifying teachable moments for health behavior counseling in primary care

Deborah J. Cohen, Elizabeth C. Clark, Peter J. Lawson, Brad A. Casucci, Susan A. Flocke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Objective: Situations with potential to motivate positive change in unhealthy behavior have been called 'teachable moments'. Little is known about how they occur in the primary care setting. Methods: Cross-sectional observational design. Audio-recordings collected during 811 physician-patient interactions for 28 physicians and their adult patients were analyzed using conversation analysis. Results: Teachable moments were observed in 9.8% of the cases, and share three features: (1) the presence of a concern that is salient to the patient that is either obviously relevant to an unhealthy behavior, or through conversation comes to be seen as relevant; (2) a link that is made between the patient's salient concern and a health behavior that attempts to motivate the patient toward change; and (3) a patient response indicating a willingness to discuss and commit to behavior change. Additionally, we describe phenomena related to, but not teachable moments, including teachable moment attempts, missed opportunities, and health behavior advice. Conclusions: Success of the teachable moment rests on the physician's ability to identify and explore the salience of patient concerns and recognize opportunities to link them with unhealthy behaviors. Practice implications: The skills necessary for accomplishing teachable moments are well within the grasp of primary care physicians.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e8-e15
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Health behavior change
  • Health behavior counseling
  • Prevention
  • Primary care
  • Smoking
  • Weight management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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