5 ways to change patient behavior

Source: KevinMD

 | PATIENT | JANUARY 21, 2014

It is no secret that one of the best ways towards better health management is a good physician-patient relationship. There needs to be buy in from both participants to shared decision-making. One might object to the title of this post, stating that it puts the biggest burden on the patient, however when examining how this is achieved, you will, I hope, feel differently.


1. Establish a relationship. This might sound trite, but the first few minutes of meeting a new patient are critical. From the physician’s perspective, there is the importance of body language and reactions to patient questions. On the patient’s side as well, there are ways to make the encounter more meaningful.  Physicians need not divulge their own personal stories but convey personal touches via empathy, and anticipating patient concerns. This is perhaps the most important of all the five topics discussed here.

2. Improve the patient and caregiver knowledge base. Much of patient behavior is driven by fear of the unknown. The purpose of each test and what it entails, the overall suggested plan, the possible diagnoses and their probabilities should all be touched upon.  This need not be done in great detail but in a way in which the patient gets the overall picture. The reason for each medication prescribed and its most common potential side effects is something not always done, leaving patients with prescriptions and many questions even five minutes after leaving the office. A well-informed patient is the best patient.

3. Utilizing digital health technology tools.  Digital health tech tools, whether in the form of patient portals (allowing patients to easily communicate with me and get test results quicker), apps (allowing the patient to keep and upload a diary or use for nutritional, weight loss, or smoking cessation guidance), or reliable websites (for deeper information about their symptoms or diagnosis) should be an important aspect of all medical practices today. The mHIMSS Roadmap is a guide for healthcare enterprises and providers to adopt mobile health apps (as a matter of disclosure I was the chair of the task force that developed this set of papers). A mobile health tech strategy is essential for reaching patients and improving patient satisfaction.

4. Providing incentives. Incentives for patients to be better participants in their own healthcare need not be overt. It might be in the form of a physician’s conveying sensitivity to costs by prescribing the most economical medications, minimizing tests as well as acknowledging the issue as a concern. Another is to involving decisions and plans with a caregiver who can help achieve established goals along with the patient. In addition, the previous three points will also incentivize the patient via respect and empowerment.

5.  Involve the caregiver. The role of the caregiver cannot be underestimated in the achievement of provider goals. There are many resources for caregivers. The role of the caregiver is variable, depending upon the diagnosis, resources of the patient, proximity to the patient, and relationship itself. There are digital health tools available for caregivers. I see the success of mobile health dependent upon the focus of the caregiver as end-user and customer.

While none of the above are new concepts, they are ways in which I personally have improved my own practice and my patients’ satisfaction. I look forward to comments from others.

David Lee Scher is a cardiac electrophysiologist and a consultant, DLS Healthcare Consulting, LLC. He blogs at his self-titled site, David Lee Scher, MD.