Family Medicine Patient and Physician Attitudes Toward Climate Change and Health in Wisconsin

Climate change is an increasingly relevant public health issue attracting increasing amounts of attention. Despite family medicine being at the front line for public health, no recent studies have assessed the opinions of physicians and patients regarding climate change and health in the family medicine setting.

Surveys were distributed to adult patients in the waiting rooms of 4 University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and Community Health clinics. Four hundred three patient surveys were collected, for an 86% response rate. An online survey was distributed to all University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and Community Health physicians. Fifty-eight surveys were collected for a 32% response rate.

Forty-four percent of patients believe climate change is currently affecting their community’s health. Patients have high trust in their physician regarding environmental issues (median=4 out of 5), and 6% of patients ranked their physician as a top source of information on this topic. Sixty-four percent of physicians believe climate change is affecting their patients’ health, and 17% are comfortable counseling patients about climate change and health. Although 71% of physicians believe climate change is relevant to primary care, 31% believe that physicians should have an active role in discussing climate change with patients.

Patients and physicians are concerned about climate change and its health implications. Patient data reveals that physicians are highly trusted but underutilized sources. However, physicians are unsure of their role in addressing this topic. Thus, a large opportunity exists for family physicians to educate patients on the emerging issue of climate change and health.


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