Researchers found that patients of GPs who received preventive health measures such as screening or vaccination were more likely to accept the interventions themselves than patients of non-compliant GPs.
They said physicians could improve patient health by accepting the annual flu jab for health workers and invitations for screening to encourage patients to follow suit.
Last winter, just 46% of frontline healthcare workers received the flu jab, compared with 73% of patients aged 65 and over.
In the study, a team led by Dr Erica Frank of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, looked at the records of 1,488 primary care physicians and 1,886,791 patients in Israel. They found one in 13 GPs smoked, and average BMI was 26.8.
Researchers then examined uptake of preventive measures including mammography, colorectal cancer screening, cholesterol checks and flu vaccination.
This uncovered a 'direct positive link' between the choices of patients and those of their GP.
Patients were 14% more likely to accept flu vaccination if their GP had had the jab than patients of reluctant GPs, and 10% more likely to undergo colorectal cancer screening.
Eligible GPs more often accepted a flu jab, cholesterol checks and colorectal cancer screening than their patients, but were less likely to receive a pneumococcal vaccination or BP monitoring. Uptake of mammography was the same.
Dr Frank said: 'While physicians' health habits are generally exemplary, doctors could improve some of their personal screening and vaccination practices, which should improve the health practices of their patients.