New Year’s Day offers a clean slate, and fertile ground for personal change and growth. Many of us use this opportunity to make better choices to improve our health. For those of us who work with patients, the New Year provides us with a chance to try something new to encourage patient behavior change as well.
I’m sure you know there is nothing easy about helping patients to change their health behaviors – but it is absolutely critical to mitigating and managing the explosion of chronic illnesses that now impact nearly half of American adults. For some, a health event such as a preventable hospitalization can be a catalyst for change. For others, the dawn of a New Year provides the impetus to consider trying something new.
Estimates are that 40-50% of American adults create New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, or stop smoking, most of which are intended to improve one’s health. That’s good news. People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than those who don’t.
The not-so-good news is that the number of people who maintain their resolution declines precipitously during the month of January. By the end of the first week, 25% of us have abandoned our resolution. After one month, 64% are still at it, and after six months, it’s only 46%.
So almost half of the ‘do-it-yourself-ers’ succeed with their New Year’s resolutions. That’s pretty good, but I also know we can do better.
Most Americans continue to trust their physicians and the nurses who work with them. In fact, a Gallup survey late last year found that nurses are the most trusted professionals followed by medical doctors and pharmacists.
That means that healthcare professionals can play an important role in improving our ability to stick with health-related resolutions. Imagine how much more likely you would be to eat healthy or exercise today if your physician sent you a personalized text reminder that referenced your resolution.
Increasingly, we know that text reminders work. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that patients at risk for heart disease who received encouraging texts from their physician significantly increased their levels of physical activity. Companies like Memora Health, one of the finalists in the Geneia Joy of Medicine Challenge, use mobile messaging for appointment and immunization reminders, to personalize and improve medication adherence, and to guide patients through the care of their chronic illness.
Similarly, physicians and care team members who use Motivational Interviewing techniques have achieved significant success in supporting patient behavior change. Backed by hundreds of research studies and decades of successful use in addiction counseling, Motivational Interviewing or MI is a patient-centered style of counseling that uses open-ended questions to discover a patient’s intrinsic motivations for behavior change. Rather than lecturing a patient about the weight she’s gained in the past year and her increasing risk for diabetes, a clinician uses MI to help the patient identify her own motivations for improving her health such as being able to play hide-and-seek with her grandchildren.
The ability for care team members to use MI to help patients identify their intrinsic motivations coupled with the external influence of the New Year can be a powerful combination to encourage behavior change. With some training and practice, any clinician can use MI techniques with their patients to increase the likelihood of making health improvements.
With the New Year underway and people’s commitment to resolutions already declining, today is the day to learn about MI techniques you can use immediately with your patients. The Geneia Institute’s on-demand, 15-minute Introduction to Motivational Interviewing video course is a great way to start.