Electronic tools to assist with identification and counseling for overweight patients: A randomized controlled trial

Joyce W. Tang*, Robert F. Kushner, Kenzie A. Cameron, Brent Hicks, Andrew J. Cooper, David W. Baker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Physicians often do not recognize when their patients are overweight and infrequently counsel them about weight loss. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate a set of electronic health record (EHR)-embedded tools to assist with identification and counseling of overweight patients. DESIGN: Randomized controlled trial. PARTICIPANTS: Physicians at an academic general internal medicine clinic were randomized to activation of the EHR tools (n=15) or to usual care (n=15). Patients of these physicians were included in analyses if they had a body mass index (BMI) between 27 and 29.9 kg/m2. INTERVENTION: The EHR tool set included: a physician point-of-care alert for overweight (BMI 27-29. 9 kg/m2); a counseling template to help physicians counsel patients on action plans; and an order set to facilitate entry of overweight as a diagnosis and to order relevant patient handouts. MAIN MEASURES: Physician documentation of overweight as a problem; documentation of weight-specific counseling; physician perceptions of the EHR tools; patient self-reported progress toward their goals and perspectives about counseling received. KEY RESULTS: Patients of physicians receiving the intervention were more likely than those of usual care physicians to receive a diagnosis of overweight (22% vs. 7%; p=0.02) and weight-specific counseling (27% vs. 15%; p=0.02). Most patients receiving counseling in the intervention group reported increased motivation to lose weight (90%) and taking steps toward their goal (93%). Most intervention physicians agreed that the tool alerted them to patients they did not realize were overweight (91%) and improved the effectiveness of their counseling (82%); more than half (55%) reported counseling overweight patients more frequently (55%). However, most physicians used the tool infrequently because of time barriers. CONCLUSIONS: EHR-based alerts and management tools increased documentation of overweight and counseling frequency; the majority of patients for whom the tools were used reported short-term behavior change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)933-939
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Counseling
  • Electronic health record
  • Overweight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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