BACKGROUND: There is a growing tendency to include in medical curricula teaching programs that promote a biopsychosocial (BPS) approach to patient care. However, we know of no attempts to assess their effect on patterns of care and health care expenditures. OBJECTIVE: To determine whether 1) a teaching intervention aiming to promote a BPS approach to care affects the duration of the doctor-patient encounter, health expenditures, and patient satisfaction with care, and 2) the teaching method employed affects these outcomes. METHODS: We compared two teaching methods. The first one (didactic) consisted of reading assignments, lectures, and group discussions. The second (interactive) consisted of reading assignments, small group discussions, Balint groups, and role-playing exercises. We videotaped patient encounters 1 month before and 6 months after the teaching interventions, and recorded the duration of the videotaped encounters and whether the doctor had prescribed medications, ordered tests, and referred the patient to consultants. Patient satisfaction was measured by a structured questionnaire. RESULTS: Both teaching interventions were followed by a reduction in medications prescribed and by improved patient satisfaction. Compared to the didactic group, the interactive group prescribed even fewer medications, ordered fewer laboratory examinations, and elicited higher scores of patient satisfaction. The average duration of the encounters after the didactic and interactive teaching interventions was longer than that before by 36 and 42 seconds, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: A BPS teaching intervention may reduce health care expenditures and enhance patients' satisfaction, without changing markedly the duration of the encounter. An interactive method of instruction was more effective in achieving these objectives than a didactic one.
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