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The 3 Support Roles Patients Need (But Are Missing)

Posted by Siobhan Bulfin on Jun 26, 2019 1:00:49 PM

Architects understand a very important principle that healthcare professionals can learn from: without the right support, a building can’t stand. 

Undergirding the Parthenon, the Rome Colosseum, and the pyramids is a framework that can withstand enormous weight and pressure. These structures were built with support systems that can keep a building standing—regardless of external forces and the passage of time.

People living with a chronic disease face a similar scenario. Often, patients feel enormous pressure and face barriers to behavior change. Many lack a support system that helps them handle these personal struggles. As a result, they find it difficult to adhere to their wellness plans.

That being said, many patients do have access to expert clinicians. But in reality, clinicians can provide one, maybe two, beams in a patient’s support structure. They can’t be expected to support every patient need, and so the problem persists. 


Patients need support that reaches beyond the clinic and into their daily lives.  

While some patients receive support from family members and from members of their community, many lack the required, consistent level of support to meet their goals. With targeted support, including health coaching, motivational interviewing and peer connection, patients can have access to the support they need to self-manage their health.

Health coaches

Behind positive changes to behavioral health are achievable goals. Many patients, however, find it difficult to set health goals and reach them. For those patients who struggle, health coaches can help get them on track.

Motivational interviewing

Health coaches take the time to understand their patients and help them set achievable goals with lifestyle changes. One way they ascertain patient needs is through motivational interviewing

This approach to behavior change allows patients to be honest with themselves about factors that influence bad habits. Rather than fixating on their poor choices, the motivational interview encourages patients to work through the internal conflicts that are fostering their habits.

By creating positive, safe spaces, health coaches can connect with their patients, help them form realistic goals and make sustainable change. This practice allows them to improve not only their physical health but also their mindset. In this way, health coaches support whole-person care and help patients manage chronic symptoms.

Ongoing assistance

After helping patients create achievable wellness goals, health coaches can remain available to assist them if they need it. Patients can reach out to their coaches using Melon’s online tools. These tools provide a platform for patients to voice their concerns or frustrations, and to ask questions as they implement their wellness plans.

In response, health coaches can adjust goals so that patients stay motivated in their wellness plans. This level of support helps patients address the emotional, mental and physical barriers to their health that may present on a daily basis. As a result, patients are able to stay motivated in maintenance stages. They are also able to change unhealthy habits that may lead to non-complex chronic diseases.

In this way, health coaches support scalable health care and alleviate clinician workload. Plus, patients receive the kind of support they need in order to make behavior changes and improve their quality of life.

Peer support

Human connection is irreplaceable. In healthcare, however, many patients have never met someone else with the same condition or challenges. This often results in perceived isolation and discouragement.

Back in 2015, when Melon was based at Mayo Clinic, we encountered a patient named Ed. His health care journey was riddled with many difficult conditions and medical procedures, yet it was the human connection that made a lasting impact on his wellness. 

He shared with us a chance meeting with another patient on an elevator. This other patient’s experience mirrored Ed’s health problems. For Ed, this one moment of human connection was a turning point in his journey because he had never met someone else just like him. This connection was so impactful that to this day, one of Ed’s biggest regrets is that he didn’t get this other patient’s phone number. 

Patients need to be enabled to connect with other patients just like them, and we know have the technology to make this simple for them. Peers have a unique ability to help each other stay motivated. For instance, if one patient is discouraged with their weight loss progress, the others in their community can offer encouragement and practical advice. 

Online patient communities connect patients with each other—regardless of location and transportation. Plus, they supersede financial and time constraints. With peer support available via mobile devices and other online tools, patients are better able to withstand emotional and mental pressure.

Community managers

With all of this real-time communication between peers, someone needs to facilitate group conversations to ensure they remain pertinent, positive and helpful. That’s where community managers come in.

Community managers, who are peers to the other patients in the group and not clinicians, act as connectors. They connect patients to each other, to trusted information and to positive communication. In addition, they can encourage patients to engage with other peers who have similar interests or health conditions. 

As they monitor group conversations, watching for unhelpful or unreliable information, they guide patients toward good information and away from poor advice. Plus, can help conversations remain positive and constructive. 

By doing this, they create a safe place for patients to share concerns and frustrations. As a result, patients are better able to deal with emotional and mental struggles that may accompany behavior change.

Health coaching, peer communities and community managers provide patients with a support system that can withstand the pressures and frustrations that often accompany health changes. By leveraging these resources, health systems can reduce clinician workload while addressing the deepest needs of patients with chronic conditions. 

Is your clinic leveraging these support structures when it comes to patient care?

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Topics: patient engagement, peer support, patient community, population health

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