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Three Key Ways To Help Your Patients Take Charge Of Their Health

It's frustrating to see your patients return to each appointment with the same lifestyle problems while having not made the lifestyle changes they promised. These unhealthy habits may be keeping them from better medical outcomes despite excellent medication and surgeries. Most people don’t change their habits or take action until it's more painful and frightening to do nothing than it would be to change. Pain and fear are great motivators—but they exact a cost by depleting energy and leaving one feeling despondent and paralyzed. Many people get stuck in this painful place, making new habits even harder to start and maintain.

As clinicians, our encouragement, support, and validation can make a significant difference in clients initiating and sustaining healthy changes. Three ingredients are crucial to inspire action – pain, fear of recurrence, and encouragement from a trusted source.  

Many people, including your patients, know the importance of good nutrition, exercising, stress reduction, and happiness, which are keys to their health and well-being. However, knowing that healthy behaviors are crucial often does not result in people changing their lifestyles. So, what can you do to help them change? Here are three simple guidelines:

Information Isn't Action: Emphasize the importance of taking action to create healthy lifestyles. 

Knowledge does not equal transformation, and clinicians need to highlight the importance of a healthy lifestyle in medical care for better outcomes. Just because evidenced-based research documents that specific behaviors, such as exercise, will significantly improve health and reduce mortality doesn’t mean a person has the intention, motivation, or know-how to accomplish change. They may only consider changing or adopting healthy behaviors once the pain of not changing is greater than the discomfort of changing. This difficult moment for the patient can be an excellent opportunity for a clinician to make a difference by problem-solving with the patient and reinforcing the importance of a healthy lifestyle. 

I watched this play out in my own life. I had a severe neck and back injury. I knew that stretching would help me reduce my pain, but applying it to my life was a different story.  It wasn't until the pain was too excruciating to continue to work at the computer that I was willing to take action.  My clinician encouraged me to do five-minute stretches every hour, significantly reducing pain. This encouragement was the extra ingredient I needed to take action and then keep the habit going. 

Tell Them: Reiterate the message often and consistently.

As a clinician, tell them how important it is to take action. Tell them often–at each appointment– that a healthy mental and physical lifestyle makes a difference in how long and well they will live. Include a positive statement about how a lifestyle change can improve their chronic disease. In advertising, it's common knowledge that a customer has to be exposed to something eight to twelve times before they are likely to take action. Repetition is just as necessary for patients to get on board with a change in their healthcare. Many will not even try new behaviors without frequent encouragement that these behaviors are essential to their treatment program. Your patients need to hear it from you. They need your support and consistent validation to make changes. Allied health professionals, such as health psychologists, acupuncturists, and nutritionists, can be excellent support team members.

Build a Partnership with Your Patient To Foster Change: They are in charge of their healthy lifestyle.

Direct them towards resources and encourage them to take an active role. (We will talk more about specific resources in a future post.) Introduce the idea that you and they are partners in their treatment. Patients are experts about themselves and have agency over their behaviors. You are responsible for the clinical care; they are in charge of their behavioral care. When patients and clinicians collaborate as partners, everyone wins.

To sum up (here’s that repetition we were talking about): information itself does not lead to change; action does; patients need validation, support, and consistent reminders that healthy behaviors matter; and patients are vital partners with their clinicians in creating and maintaining their health. These three directives lay the groundwork for quantitatively better medical outcomes and a healthier and more resilient future for patients, from which everyone benefits.


Further Reading:


This blog is made available by the publisher for educational purposes; to provide general information and a general understanding of health issues (health psychology, behavioral health, medical yoga), and does not provide specific medical advice. By using this blog, you understand that there is no medical-client relationship between you and the Blog publisher. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent medical/clinical advice from a licensed professional clinician.


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