Healthcare focus, nowadays, is on identifying ways of changing behaviours that perpetuate chronic disease, or introducing changes that help with prevention. Identifying the needed behaviour change is the first step, after the need has been identified, the next step is around developing communication strategies that guide those at risk towards better self-management.
As we explore the role of communication in healthcare, and as treatments become more complex, healthcare naturally evolves. We have moved from a reactionary process in which we identify a disease then develop medicines to protect and cure, into a more precautionary methodology.
There is a greater need for meaningful communication when people are required to change their lifestyle in order to manage or prevent health problems. It’s no longer as straightforward as simply giving instructions on how to take medication.
An ongoing conversation
Getting people to modify their own behavioural norms, requires understanding the patient perspective to develop new intervention methods. Just as healthcare focus has changed from ‘protect and cure’ to ‘educate and prevent’, so too must communication make a similar shift to:
- communication and conversation that is more continuous.
- less episodic intervention.
Harnessing the evidence
Typically, the triple objective of evidence-based medicine is to:
- improve care quality.
- improve patient satisfaction.
- be cost effective.
This is usually achieved through clinical studies that are then ratified by medical authorities. The evidence is then passed through the medical community, incorporated into medical communications with HCPs, and onward to patients.
The missing link in this chain of evidence is a lack of inclusion of the patient’s preferences and values, both of which are vital in validating the salience of the evidence generated by research. Taking into account the patient’s preferences and values empowers them to participate more fully in decisions regarding their healthcare, particularly when it comes to changing behaviours.
Starting from a body of evidence is vital, obviously, as it makes decision-making less risky. Communications with the patient, however, create a fluid, organic growth process in which the medical industry can gather further bodies of evidence that come from real-world experiences and responses. Communications with patients must be adaptive to meet diverse patient needs, since changing behaviours takes more than simply serving up information.
The medical industry has already gone a long way towards creating the shift from presentation to conversation, but needs to go further, and that means including knowledge from behavioural sciences.
A case study example of an ongoing conversation
Often, it takes an understanding of social and cultural contexts to communicate effectively. This applies to health workers and caregivers as well as to patients. One such example took place in countries across Africa and Asia, in the fight to save the lives of some of the 800,000 children who die each year from diarrhoea-related illnesses. Despite the medical community knowing that such diseases were preventable, caregivers were either unaware of the prevention or they doubted its efficacy.
Following market testing in various countries, coupled with stakeholder input and technical guidance, it was possible to build up an understanding of caregivers’ motivations and barriers.
From a behavioural understanding perspective, the resulting communication toolkit created an ongoing conversation that made changing behaviours possible, as the health community could communicate in ways that were more appropriate.
In identifying ways in which the medical industry can be most effective in changing behaviours, including citizens as co-creators of services provides the answers. Meaningful conversations reveal the indicators of behaviour, which in turn brings about an understanding of resistance, or barriers, to change. Through recognising those barriers, the medical industry can open new avenues of conversation, generating new tools and frameworks that lead ultimately to needed behavioural changes.