Open Access Open Badges Research article

Supporting health behaviour change in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with telephone health-mentoring: insights from a qualitative study

Julia A E Walters1*, Helen Cameron-Tucker1, Helen Courtney-Pratt2, Mark Nelson3, Andrew Robinson2, Jenn Scott4, Paul Turner5, E Haydn Walters1 and Richard Wood-Baker1

Author Affiliations

1 University of Tasmania, MS1 UTAS, Private Bag 23, Hobart, TAS, 7000, Australia

2 University of Tasmania, Private Bag 135, Hobart, TAS, 7000, Australia

3 Menzies Research Institute Tasmania, University of Tasmania, MS1 UTAS, Private Bag 23, Hobart, TAS, 7000, Australia

4 University of Tasmania, Private Bag 30, Hobart, TAS, 7000, Australia

5 University of Tasmania, Private Bag 100, Hobart, TAS, 7000, Australia

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BMC Family Practice 2012, 13:55  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-13-55

Published: 13 June 2012



Adoption and maintenance of healthy behaviours is pivotal to chronic disease self-management as this influences disease progression and impact. This qualitative study investigated health behaviour changes adopted by participants with moderate or severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) recruited to a randomised controlled study of telephone-delivered health-mentoring.


Community nurses trained as health-mentors used a patient-centred approach with COPD patients recruited in general practice to facilitate behaviour change, using a framework of health behaviours; ‘SNAPPS’ Smoking, Nutrition, Alcohol, Physical activity, Psychosocial well-being, and Symptom management, through regular phone calls over 12 months. Semi-structured interviews in a purposive sample sought feedback on mentoring and behaviour changes adopted. Interviews were analysed using iterative thematic and interpretative content approaches by two investigators.


Of 90 participants allocated to health-mentoring, 65 (72%) were invited for interview at 12-month follow up. The 44 interviewees, 75% with moderate COPD, had a median of 13 mentor contacts over 12 months, range 5–20. Interviewed participants (n = 44, 55% male, 43% current smokers, 75% moderate COPD) were representative of the total group with a mean age 65 years while 82% had at least one additional co-morbid chronic condition. Telephone delivery was highly acceptable and enabled good rapport. Participants rated ‘being listened to by a caring health professional’ as very valuable. Three participant groups were identified by attitude to health behaviour change: 14 (32%) actively making changes; 18 (41%) open to and making some changes and 12 (27%) more resistant to change. COPD severity or current smoking status was not related to group category. Mentoring increased awareness of COPD effects, helping develop and personalise behaviour change strategies, even by those not actively making changes. Physical activity was targeted by 43 (98%) participants and smoking by 14 (74%) current smokers with 21% reporting quitting. Motivation to maintain changes was increased by mentor support.


Telephone delivery of health-mentoring is feasible and acceptable to people with COPD in primary care. Health behaviours targeted by this population, mostly with moderate disease, were mainly physical activity and smoking reduction or cessation. Health-mentoring increased motivation and assisted people to develop strategies for making and sustaining beneficial change.

Trial registration


Health-mentoring; Behaviour change; Primary care; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Physical activity; Smoking