Helping Patients Choose Health

Our approach to creating healthy behaviors is based on the science of behavior change and habit formation.

In a nutshell, changing behavior requires motivation, the capacity to be aware, the ability to learn, an environment that supports the practice of new behavior and timely feedback. Armed with the basic understanding of habits and behavior change and a set of tools, healthcare staff can be extremely effective in helping patients improve their health behaviors and meet their health goals. Habitworks provides the framework and tools that extend and strengthen helping/coaching relationships.

Health care organizations have learned that prescriptive interventions simply telling someone to “lose weight”, “take your medications” or “follow your treatment plan” aren’t terribly effective. It is now widely accepted that a significant portion of health outcomes is under the control of a patient. New methods of engaging patients are required.

Everyone can agree that becoming healthier is a good thing and yet, it is very difficult to do.Even if there are very good reasons to change behavior, it’s still difficult to do. Essentially, the problem is that we are creatures of habit. Habits, even those that cause health problems have a couple of things going for them that help them hang in there and be so difficult to change. First, the largest part of a habit is unconscious. Often, we don’t even have a good idea that “ooops, I did it again” until too late. Despite best intentions, we are helpless when faced with learned behavior. Also, even awful habits have some “feel good” kernel in the midst of all the ways an unhealthy habit can hurt us, make us feel bad or get us in trouble. Providing comfort, satisfaction, familiarity or ease are formidable emotions to challenge even with all the power of medical establishment behind directives for healthier behavior.

Core Concepts

The patient must be in charge of identifying goals for healthy behaviors. Only if patients can choose what is important, are they able to have the motivation, commitment and focus to persist, particularly when old habits exert the pull of familiar, comfortable and safe. No one is going to be with a patient 24/7 to control and monitor how they live their days and nights. Patients must be able to freely choose what they see as important goals and develop weekly plans for incremental steps to get them there.

Meaningful support and encouragement is critical to building a path towards success. People who know you, know your goals and health condition and whose opinions you respect have the greatest leverage to help you get through the tight spots, remind you of what you want to achieve and cheer you on. Those people can be health care staff, friends or family.

Effective touch points: Quick, focused and timely provide the best support and encouragement. Feedback about successes, problem solving about failures or answering questions have the greatest impact when they are as close to the behavior as reasonably possible. A quick pat on the back or a suggestion to try something different can make a dramatic difference in patients’ motivation and ability to succeed. Not to mention that frequent, easy and quick touch points can head off exacerbations of chronic conditions that if left unaddressed might require acute intervention or hospitalization.

Education and information: Why should I care? We are inundated with information and urged to pay attention. Unfortunately, information doesn’t stick without a reason to pay attention. Timely, focused, brief education directly related to the healthy behavior helps patients increase insight, learn new options and develop new plans. Providing just-in-time information that is useful and useable is invaluable.

Paying attention leads to learning resulting in better decisions. How best to do battle with intractable, persistent behavior? The impulse often is to rely on willpower that inevitably weakens and ultimately fails. Another tack is to build in time to observe and better understand the environmental triggers and internal thoughts and feelings that maintain old habits. A daily reflection of "How am I doing? What went well? Where did I run into roadblocks?" increases awareness about the situations, times of day, people or internal reactions that sustain old behavior. Armed with that knowledge, patients can anticipate, plan and enlist help to support new behaviors and the development of healthy habits.

Incremental success leads to an increase in confidence and resilience. The road to wellness is littered with failure. Habitworks provides a structure and support so that small successes lead to big changes in patients’ beliefs that they can make a difference in their health.

How does this translate into the Habitworks framework?

Frequent opportunities to customize goals and activities means that patients are in charge of their goals and their plans to become healthier.

Frequent opportunities to reflect on progress, the roadblocks impeding progress and ways to successfully move forward build patients’ awareness, mindfulness and problem solving capacities.

Frequent opportunities to get feedback, support and encouragement from healthcare staff reinforce positive changes, help maintain motivation and effective problem solving when patients struggle.

Just-in-time, best-in-class information and education that can be delivered when it will be most effective.

Lastly, the application is approachable, easy to use and takes as little as a minute a day for patients to record an activity and less than a minute a day for staff to monitor and/or reply. Sure, patients can make extensive journal entries with their observations and plans, but a patient with a busy day can take a minute and be done.