Behavior change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes work and setbacks and goal setting and weeks or months before a patient and their care team sees results. Yet it’s extremely vital for patients to change their behavior so they can live healthier lives.
When dealing with chronic disease, especially, behavior change is a major part of treatment. However, many patients with chronic disease struggle to adopt healthier lifestyles, resulting in tremendous cost not only to their health and their pocketbooks, but also to the industry at large.
In the United States alone, cardiovascular disease costs $199 billion per year. Diabetes reaches $237 billion annually and also increases risk factors for other costly complications like heart disease and kidney failure. Losses in job productivity because of chronic disease wastes another $139 billion. Then there’s obesity - as a contributing factor to chronic illness, it costs the U.S. $147 billion each year.
These costs are spent on visits to a patient's clinician, medication, treatment, operations, and more. Yet too often, the patient still doesn't get well and they never learn how to self-manage their own health.
With rising costs and more patients at risk of developing a chronic condition, patients need to be enabled to engage in behavior change.
Health goals are compromised by lack of social support
While clinicians play important roles in fighting chronic disease, they cannot provide the social support patients need. If patients are to receive social support, it needs to come from somewhere else.
Patients need healthcare to become personal. Healthcare is beginning to implement measures for personal care, but it needs to reach further than the walls of medical establishments to help patients connect with other patients who can support them on their journey.
One way to help patients receive this vital social support is through a tech-enabled patient peer community, a place for people to get and give information about their disease. This information is valuable because it’s based on experience, not just textbook knowledge. They also have help making decisions about medical care and health goals in the community and community manager as well as with their health coach.
With tech-enabled peer support, patients receive real-time input. When struggling to meet personal health goals, they have a team of peer “experts” - other people who have walked the road ahead of them - at their fingertips for support.
Isolation affects behavior change
Isolation affects more than meets the eye. When it comes to chronic disease, loneliness only complicates symptoms. In fact, isolation increases the risk of chronic disease and makes it difficult for patients to make lifestyle changes.
Isolation also causes contributing factors to chronic disease - high blood pressure and chronic stress. It heightens the risk for mortality and cardiovascular disease. Overall, patients who are isolated have an elevated risk of death by 29 percent.
Peer support will help combat this feeling of isolation. Too often, participants in Melon's health communities tell us that they feel like no one else understands their struggle until they join our online health community.
Once they have access to a support system, they discover that they are not alone, there are people out there like them and who can offer valuable insight that helps them reach their health goals.
Mental health plays a role in behavior change
Chronic disease isn't just about a single condition - it's is a whole-person condition: mental, physical, and emotional. In many cases, the role of mental health is overlooked as the healthcare system treats patients for chronic disease.
Chronic conditions can cause depression as patients battle with thoughts of failure and "will I ever be able to change?" They may also grieve over lifestyle changes they are required to make like diet changes or exercise habits.
Depression also corrodes patient motivation. For patients with chronic illness, this is damaging. They need to be motivated, but how can they when it's hard to roll out of bed in the morning?
Mental health issues may also increase the risk for chronic conditions as people who struggle with depression may also struggle to maintain healthy lifestyles that keep chronic disease at bay.
While many patients join peer support communities for answers to questions, over time they gain emotional support, too, through kind words, feeling accepted, and sharing life circumstances with other individuals. Either way, this kind of encouragement bolsters mental health in patients and helps them make lifestyle changes that set them on the path to a healthier life.
Health community participants find motivation by helping others
We've long recognized the benefit of helping others. As one Chinese proverb says, “If you want happiness for a lifetime, help others.”
When patients help other patients, they are more able to fight depression. Studies have found connections between helping others and brain changes that facilitate happiness. By helping others deal with stressful circumstances, patients develop better emotional regulation skills.
Health care traditionally doesn’t have a system that allows patients to help others...until now, that is. Peer support multiplies - one patient helps one or two or three other patients, who go on to help others, who help others, and on it goes.
Not only do results multiply, but help is bi-directional. Those helping also receive emotional support, and those needing advice are helped physically as well as emotionally. In turn, both groups of patients are motivated.
Brainstorming together helps patients find behavior change solutions
One important support tool that patients don't often get in traditional healthcare is collaborative brainstorming. By reaching out to their peer community and working through how to change a certain aspect of their lifestyle or how to reverse a plateau, they get real-time help to make small changes that have a big impact.
As an example, a patient could be struggling to give up hamburgers and fries because it's what they do with their buddies. Peers in their community can brainstorm with the patient to find something that doesn't work so they can still have Friday night with their friends while eating healthier.
How are you facilitating behavior change?
If you need help providing the lifestyle change tools your patients need, download our free roadmap to building consumer-focused experiences that enable patients to engage in their own health.