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Behavioural Science in Healthcare

Personal health and wellbeing has never been more a part of the public conscious than it is now.

Personal health and wellbeing has never been more a part of the public conscious than it is now. We are bombarded with messages about health, from the global issue of antibiotic resistance to increased obesity and heart disease, every day via every conceivable channel.

As a result, many of us have become slightly obsessed about our behaviours with high numbers of people buying fitness devices or downloading apps onto smartphones and smartwatches just to record how many calories they consume, how many steps they’ve walked and what their blood pressure reading is. Our appetite for wearable devices in the pursuit of recording every moment are expected to signal a 26% increase in sales of wearables this year, with growth forecast to double by 20221.

We are continually searching for an objective view of our lives from an exterior source, which is exactly what we get from these devices. They give us hard facts about what is going on within our day without the bias of a personal connection. We then, sometimes subconsciously, use that information to define ourselves and set targets for the future.

Behavioural change is complex and can seem like a struggle for both the patients and their clinicians. It’s important to note that behavioural changes happen outside of the treatment room and within the context of a patient’s life. Some patients will require several changes and will, therefore, need to be involved in the decision-making process at the beginning. It’s essential first to assess their motives for making changes, raise awareness of the changes that need to be made, and finally support them in that change.

Effective communication is vital in all of this. There are four steps to this:

1. Open questions encourage patients to explore how they feel.

2. Affirmations demonstrate appreciation for the patients’ efforts and motivates them to keep pushing.

3. Reflective listening enables the listener to check what they have understood and allows the speaker to feel appreciated.

4. Summary helps to demonstrate to the patient that the clinician has listened, understood and taken on board what they have said.

This behavioural science approach can be seen concerning adherence to treatment. If a patient can see the result of them pursuing a treatment pathway, they are more likely to be spurred on by those possible results. It means that healthcare organisations need to be a constant presence throughout treatment either through technology or face-to-face interactions. Without this crucial step, patients are liable to fall by the wayside and forget about their goals, particularly if the treatment is not enjoyable or they can’t see the result for themselves as they go.

4th December 2019

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Page & Page and Partners

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