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Health behaviour change: Getting patients to accept treatment

Discover how to influence behaviour change in patients to get them to accept the treatment they need.

For doctors, healthcare professionals (HCPs) and pharma companies, it’s clear that ‘giving treatment’ is not a straightforward or easy process.  

Patients have a choice to take treatment or not, and therefore it has to be accepted before it is given. In order for the treatment to be successful, a change in lifestyle, habits or opinions must occur in the patient first, because without their willing involvement the treatment (be it medicine, a diet change or health regime) cannot even begin in the first place. Therefore, understanding the patient – and what ‘makes them tick’ – is as crucial as understanding the scientific process of the treatment itself.

Risk communication
Besides being needed to undertake new treatments, a change in behaviour is also essential for the prevention of illnesses, conditions and bad health in general. Doctors, HCPs and pharma should, and do, make efforts to warn patients of potential harm to their wellbeing, and we call this risk communication.

Successful risk communication relies on four factors:

  • The patient’s perceived severity of an illness
  • The patient’s perceived probability of contracting an illness or making it worse
  • The patient’s perceived efficacy of the treatment
  • The patient’s perceived self-efficacy (i.e. how confident they are to change their behaviour and successfully complete treatment   
The primary aim of risk communication is to influence a change in behaviour, and this means it’s essential to understand the factors that motivate all humans to change, not just patients. Making the most of these factors, however, requires understanding patients on a personal level – i.e. knowing their attitudes, fears, hopes and desires. Smoking cessation, for example, may be ‘giving up’ to one but ‘taking on’ to another, so the job of doctors, HCPs and pharma is to know which approach is right for each patient.  

How best to intervene

Regarding interventions to motivate patients to change for the better, there are six essential stages:  

  1. PRE-CONTEMPLATION: This refers to the period when the patient denies the problem, is afraid to address it, or doesn’t see any point in making changes.
  2. CONTEMPLATION: The patient knows change is needed, but is afraid or uncertain about taking action.
  3. PREPARATION: The patient makes positive steps, even if only mentally, but still hasn’t made any major changes.
  4. ACTION: Notable changes are made, and progress seen.
  5. MAINTENANCE: Keeping up the good work; a difficult stage because the ‘novelty’ has worn off and so there is a tendency to relapse to old ways or give up treatment altogether.
  6. TERMINATION: Behaviour change has occurred successfully, and the treatment is working.   

On looking at the stages listed in this way, it’s obvious that doctors, HCPs and pharma can do much to assist patients throughout the whole process – not just from stage 4 (Action) onwards. The problem is that many professionals simply don’t recognise the earlier stages as being under their jurisdiction, and often see the prevention, or recognition, of risk as simply a matter of divulging information to patients.  

HCPs can be much more than mere processors of information, by recognising how behaviour change can occur and making positive steps to influence it – in a variety of ways which depend on the individual nature of each patient. Behaviour change is indeed only possible with the full input of patients; however, doctors, HCPs and pharma brands must also understand the value of their own input – and recognise that their behaviour may also need to change too.  

This blog was first published here:

31st May 2017



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