Health care has traditionally been focused on treating the disease. Even today, chronic disease patients have access to treatments and interventions that can lengthen their lives.
However, what we have struggled to do is prevent chronic disease from happening in the first place. We’ve been so focused on treating and managing the disease and associated symptoms that we have been constantly putting out wildfires instead of finding the source of the fire.
To do this, we need to consider the whole patient - their lifestyle, their environment, and their circumstances. Instead of simply asking what treatment does this set of symptoms need, we need to ask, what will prevent this patient from making lifestyle changes and continuing treatment for their condition? What are the barriers to behavior change?
Lack of motivation as a barrier to behavior change
Patients struggle with motivation for many reasons. Here are a few of the causes:
- Battling depression
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Not knowing where to start
- Setting goals that are too large
- Having unrealistic expectations
- Wanting to keep their lifestyle the way it was
While motivational struggles often result in worsening symptoms (such as rising glucose levels), the symptoms aren’t the total problem. Mindset is a major factor. When dealing with habit change, mental barriers need to be addressed.
How to overcome motivational barriers
Patients struggling with lack of motivation need an emotional and mental support system. They need help setting reasonable wellness goals, and they need encouragement to follow through on aspirations.
Health coaches do a motivational interview with the patient to understand their mental or emotional barriers to help them set achievable goals. Not only do they understand chronic illness, but they also track patient symptoms on a regular basis. They are uniquely situated to provide personalized advice to patients with motivational struggles.
Peer groups also help motivation. In these interactive environments, patients can learn from the strategies of others battling the same disease. As they see others successfully making lifestyle changes, they are encouraged to do the same.
Social determinants of health as behavior change barriers
Physical symptoms of chronic disease are often easier to see. However, external and emotional factors affecting a patient’s health can be harder to address. These less obvious factors can determine a patient’s health, meaning they utilize costly healthcare services more often, have worse outcomes, and struggle to know what lifestyle changes to make, how to make them, and how to stick with them.
Isolation puts patients at higher risk for developing chronic conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease. For patients currently fighting chronic illness, support systems are vital for lifestyle changes.
For instance, elderly patients may struggle to increase physical activity without assistance. And others may struggle to change nutritional habits for weight loss without support.
Patients may feel isolated even when surrounded by loved ones if they don’t know anyone with a similar chronic illness and are the only one in their circle making lifestyle adjustments.
How to address lack of social support
Patients in isolated circumstances need peer support that encourages goal development. Providers can offer technology-enabled human connection by way of an online community that allows patients to find both professional and peer support.
Patients with financial struggles may not seek care until their symptoms become acute. Often, this results in expensive ER utilization. If a patient can’t afford health insurance, is unemployed or underemployed, or is struggling to make ends meet, they are also more likely to struggle with behavior change. By not maintaining consistent contact with clinicians, patients are unaware of symptoms that are progressing to chronic disease until it’s too late.
How to address economic instability
One way healthcare can leverage their assets for patients is to enable contact through online platforms. While this isn’t a substitute for clinical services, interactions with health coaches can help patients avoid unnecessary visits to clinics.
In addition, health coaches can help patients spot warning signs of worsening health. Patients can then avoid costly medical interventions by knowing when to seek clinician assistance for symptoms. By making health coaches accessible anytime, anywhere and on any device, healthcare makes it easier for patients to stay informed while intervening in declining cases.
The connection between education and health is complex but real. A patient’s education level impacts their employment options which in turn affects the food they eat as well as theri housing options. People with more education are also more likely to learn about healthy habits and prevention measures.
How to address education barriers
By reaching lower income groups with accessible health education content, clinicians can decrease the knowledge gap for less educated patients. In addition, making these tools available online can help patients ask questions and receive information from reputable sources.
Access to healthcare
In many regions of the U.S., access to good healthcare is limited by geography. As a result of this lack of access, patients are less likely to seek care on a regular basis which may result in poorer outcomes.
How to address lack of access
Thanks to the internet, care doesn’t have to be limited by physical location. Enabling patients through online support systems to monitor their health and wellness gives them one more tool to prevent illness. Through these online platforms providers can encourage healthy lifestyles such as increased physical activity and improved nutrition.
Clinicians can also stay informed from afar about patient wellness through online health coaches and data tracking. A patient engagement tool that integrates into clinician workflow can provide care teams with knowledge of how patients are doing even when they don’t see them on a regular basis.
Depending on where people live, they may have more or less access to transportation options. Without rides or public transit available, patients find it difficult to have regular appointments at clinics. In addition, some economically depressed neighborhoods don’t have grocery stores, and without transportation options, residents struggle to access healthy nutrition.
How to address lack of transportation
During intake, health coaches can learn about patient barriers. If they discover transportation is an issue, they can connect them to nonprofits or service providers in the region who help patients get to medical appointments.
What are the barriers to your population’s health?
Providing human connection, professional support, and connections to regional services can help them overcome.
Learn how Melon Health can enable your clinicians to overcome barriers to their patient’s health.