Health behaviours can have positive or negative impacts on health. Obviously, we don’t worry ourselves over healthy behaviours, but we should be concerned about unhealthy behaviours that can contribute to morbidity, and unhealthy behaviours that can contribute to mortality. Point in fact, long-term conditions (LTC) are often strongly connected to unhealthy behaviours. Nevertheless, behaviour is modifiable, and many LTCs are in fact preventable, and if not, at least manageable.
Yet, modifying one’s deep-rooted behaviours is difficult, and helping others to forgo their health-damaging habits isn’t any easier. Therein lies one of the greatest challenges that primary care faces, markedly so in the developed world where LTCs are the primary source of disease burden.
Psychologists have studied the process of behaviour change and proposed models that explain how behaviour change happens, why some attempts are successful and long lasting and, why others aren’t. In studying behaviour, psychologists have pointed out that there is an evident intention-behaviour gap; the implication being that not every type of primary care intervention is suited to all patients. Interventions that are aimed at immediate action are not well suited for patients who aren’t ready to change. Likewise, interventions that seek to inform patients are not always useful for patients who are ready to act. Therefore, in order for healthcare providers to efficiently help patients modify their behaviours, it’s pivotal to assess the patients’ knowledge about the repercussions of a given behaviour and their readiness to change.
So we know that it’s easier to promote change if we understand the patient well and we tailor our interventions to their needs. But, how do we get to that point where we understand patients’ needs? One way is by understanding and implementing what psychologists have learned about behaviour change. In doing so we ask the right questions, and thus the process of goal-setting for health behaviour change will be done in a context that is thoughtfully devised to provoke adequate reflection, and result in a plan that is well suited to the patients’ situation.
In a previous post, I mentioned that How are you? is designing an integrated Health Plan. One important component of the Health Plan is the Action Plan; it’s the goal setting section, where patients identify behaviours about their health or life style, if they’d like to change them, what they can do to change and what resources are available to help them.
Our Action Plan is being built based on thorough research on the psychology of behaviour change; we want to be certain that our Action Plan will reach and support those who want to adopt healthier behaviours and to achieve their health goals.