Health Belief Model: Definition, Theory, & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Is the Health…
  • 0:39 History of the HBM
  • 1:36 Three Elements of the HBM
  • 3:48 An Example of the HBM
  • 5:46 Analyzing Our Example
  • 6:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kendra Kennedy
This lesson will define the Health Belief Model as it was originally designed. You will also be given examples of how this health theory can be applied in the professional nursing environment.

What Is the Health Belief Model?

The Health Belief Model (HBM) is a behavioral health theory used in professional nursing practice. A behavioral health theory is a combination of knowledge, opinion, and actions taken by an individual or group in reference to their health.

This particular theory is intrapersonal, meaning that it is based on the knowledge and beliefs of each individual person. The HBM is used to develop preventative health programs, as well as design appropriate intervention programs where prevention has failed.

History of the HBM

The history of the HBM dates back to the 1950s, when researchers and health care providers found themselves at a loss to explain why a free, public tuberculosis screening program had failed to attract significant participation (tuberculosis is an infectious disease that normally affects the lungs). The HBM was developed in response to this failure. It hoped to explain the impact of an individual's perception and attitude toward a disease and how those perceptions and attitudes impacted their health-related decision-making.

It is important to note that the HBM has slight variations to its composition (including the number of elements and their specific definitions), depending on the professional setting it is used in. For the purposes of introducing the HBM, the original three elements will be used, since this is the most common variation seen in the practice of nursing.

The Three Elements of the HBM

The HBM assumes that decision-making (a person's behaviors) occurs when the following three elements (a person's ideas) take place:

Perceived Susceptibility

Perceived susceptibility (often called perceived severity) is when a person recognizes a reason to be concerned about a particular disease. In this first element, a person must recognize a disease as something negative that could possibly harm them. For example, let's consider sexually transmitted diseases (STDs: diseases transmitted through sexual contact). STDs are widely recognized by medical professionals as serious diseases. Despite medical professionals' opinions, individuals must decide whether or not STDs are a risk to them personally.

Perceived Threat

Perceived threat is when a person realizes that they may be personally vulnerable to this particular disease. This element is contingent upon an individual's opinion as to how likely their behavior is going to lead to a negative outcome. Let's continue with our discussion on STDs. Participating in unprotected sexual intercourse is known to place an individual at a higher risk of developing STDs. However, if an individual doesn't feel they are at risk for developing STDs, based on the fact that they have never had any symptoms, then they will likely not change their behavior.

Perceived Benefits vs. Perceived Barriers

Perceived benefits vs. perceived barriers encompass when a person weighs the cost of the required behavior change against the possible benefits. A person must determine that changing their behavior will not only improve their health, but can also be achieved within their means. If a person decides that the STDs are a notable health concern, and that they are personally vulnerable to this disease process, then they may be willing to change their sexual behaviors.

However, if a person determines that the barriers to changing their behaviors are greater than the possible benefits, they will not follow through. Barriers could include a lack of transportation to the nearest health clinic, a lack of health insurance, lengthy waiting periods at the doctor's office, conflicting work schedules, fear that treatment may be too expensive, etc.

An Example of the HBM

Now, let's see the HBM put into hypothetical practice in a professional nursing environment.


You are working as a staff nurse in the Department of Corrections. The facility where you work houses 1,500 male offenders, with various medical conditions and ages ranging from 15 to 99 years.

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