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Where is health behaviour change heading?

Cures rely on patient adherence to succeed, and health behaviour change in any non-compliant patient is essential, this post explores where health behaviour change is heading.

How easy would life be if everything boiled down to ‘problems and solutions’? In healthcare, this would simply mean ‘for condition A, take medicine B’, and the world would be a happier, healthier and more prosperous place.

In reality, however, cures and treatments are not the final solution – no matter how well they defy the power of infection. They face another obstacle – human nature – and, as we all know, this is infinitely more difficult to understand than even the deadliest epidemic. 

Cures rely on patient adherence to succeed, and health behaviour change in any non-compliant patient is essential before any course of treatment is undertaken. In other words, a patient is not just a bunch of atoms and organs. Obviously, drugs react with human bodies in a way that the patient can’t control, but they can decide how and when to ingest them – or even refuse altogether.

So without the conscious input of patients, treatments simply cannot work. Yet these treatments are still prescribed, and this means time and money is wasted on treatments which fail to meet their objectives. According to the Aston Medication Adherence Study of 2013, non-adherence costs the NHS £500 million per year – and that’s a lot of money that could be used to save lives. Quite rightly, the medical world is desperate to do something about this worrying fact – and it goes far beyond ‘informing patients’ to achieve better outcomes.

Patients: the problem and solution

Treatment success relies not only on their willingness to adhere, but in their capacity to do so. In this case, ‘capacity’ amounts to ‘understanding’, and understanding can only be achieved with the help of doctors, HCPs and pharma experts. Yet it isn’t merely a case of supplying information; humans aren’t robots who simply digest facts and figures, as any teacher will tell you.

In order for understanding to occur, patients must be engaged with on their own terms – in their own worlds. It must also be understood that they are the masters of their destinies, and as such must be part of the discussions which concern their welfare. If erroneous health behaviour is to blame for non-adherence, then health behaviour change can only occur when the patient has good reasons. So how can these reasons be provided?

Well, the medical world is already responding – and engaging with patients in a big way through social media, TV and all the modern channels. But besides looking into finding out where patients ‘hang out’ in the real world, listening is key to the relationship – and by this we don’t just mean listening to their specific symptoms, as doctors are trained to do. We mean listening to how they live their lives, what drives them, their fears, hopes and so-on. By listening, we form a more complete picture of an individual, and that is essential to understanding them.

With this more complete picture, we can tailor messages to individual patients – we can learn their language, so to speak. If they hear us properly, they are infinitely more likely to undertake health behaviour change and, therefore, adhere to treatments.

Technology, teamwork, and moving forward

As we settle into the digital age, the medical world will learn to both adapt to technology and utilise it to maximum effect.

In a biological sense, this means being able to understand patients’ physiological histories through molecular analysis, for example, to understand the effects of drugs and treatments on a case-by-case basis. This will open the door to tailor-made solutions in a big way, as it will hone in on exact dosages needed, frequency of ingestion and so-on. It also offers the chance for patients to keep on track with treatment courses with apps and gadgets (such as Fitbits etc), and so monitor their own progress and stay in control.

Yet on a personal/psychological basis, technology offers us an unprecedented chance to communicate findings and share knowledge - i.e. to market in a way that other industries do.  According to the MM&M annual survey of 2015, digital marketing is now the focus of 76% of pharma brands, and this figure will grow further. Tapping into consumer needs will also give better direction in providing incentives to wellbeing, such as reduced gym costs, health food vouchers and lower insurance premiums.

Above all, however, is the capacity for teamwork between patients, HCPs, doctors and patients across the board. Technology makes systems run more efficiently – and both time and money are saved. With such efficiency, the £500 million figure could be drastically reduced and, in turn, money and resources could be freed up for other means – such as focusing on tailor-made solutions for individuals. These solutions, in turn, would bring about greater adherence and so, in turn, reduce wastage even further and free up more money for technology, which would in turn... well you get the point! The snowball effect would be endless.

Health behaviour change is the essential ingredient in greater adherence, but – fortunately – it is not the sole responsibility of patients. With the continued efforts of pharma, doctors and HCPs, we face a bright future in which the drugs and treatments of tomorrow will work their magic with few – if any – obstacles to prevent it.

This blog was originally published here:

20th November 2017



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