Thursday, February 4, 2010
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that people respond well to free counseling programs on weight loss or smoking cessation, but participation falls dramatically when services are no longer free. The cost of counseling also appears to make a difference to the doctors or health-care providers who refer patients to the programs, according to the study.
The authors reviewed a program that used an electronic database system to suggest health-care counseling for adults with unhealthy behaviors. For a time, free counseling was provided until funding ran out. Under the free program, 1,860 of 5,679 people who were evaluated were determined to have at least one unhealthy habit, and 407 of them were given referrals for intensive counseling, the study reported.
After the funding ceased, 729 of 2,510 people who were evaluated were determined to have unhealthy habits and just five were referred for counseling -- a 97 percent decrease in the referral rate, according to the study. Even when clinicians did offer a referral, 81 percent fewer patients followed through and got counseling when the counseling was not free.