In a healthcare industry where patients can use social networking, in-home monitors and even mobile apps to (often drastically) improve their health, they simply don’t do so. How do we get patients to engage in their health using the vast amount of technological tools available to them?
It begins with showing them that it’ll make their lives easier. Convenience leads to engagement more often than compliance-based care. Below we list what to evade and what to encourage en route to helping patients want to become healthier through technology.
Elitism and Academic-Speak
Don’t preach to your patients. When suggesting new technologies they can use to aid personal health, reason with them, explaining medical data in a digestible way.
For instance, if a patient is obese, point out statistics regarding the long-term dangers of obesity and how successful the Nike iPhone app has been in aiding the condition.
Discuss topics that matter to them personally, and explain how technology will aid them on the road to better health and/or recovery. Think of the language used in ‘how-to’ guides.
If you can’t incentivize your patients’ behavior with some sort of physical reward, how do you expect them to comply?
They won’t, at least not in the long term. Extrinsic motivations that can’t take root within a person’s emotional life won’t last long. You may entice a family member to use a mobile fitness app by offering him or her a gift card, but chances are that use of the app will drop off drastically in the days and weeks after the gift is presented.
Get to know your patients. Patient X may have an award ceremony or high school reunion. Maybe Patient Y is getting married and wants to fit into her wedding address, or Patient Z fears he won’t live long enough to see his daughter get married unless he makes large scale lifestyle changes.
Gently remind them of reasons why they need to use technology to make healthy lifestyle changes, and discuss personal objectives with them. It helps, even if the patient’s top goal is to look good naked.
Avoid complication, meaning you shouldn’t encourage technology that will make a patient’s life more difficult. A patient is far less likely to take advantage of the device or app in question if it’s too invasive or muddles up a work routine.
Say Patient X has diabetes and would benefit from round-the-clock monitoring. Suggest a device that’s as minimally invasive as possible – lightweight, comfortable and nearly soundless with a long battery life.
One of the reasons why the South American “Build Your Own Death” project couldn’t help smokers quit was because users had to take time out of their day to download, print and assemble cigarette packaging with skeletons, ghoulish graphics and other examples of non-effective compliance tactics. The technology asked you to manufacture your own fear and voluntarily keep it with you at all times.
Ensuring your patients are enjoying themselves seems obvious, but encouraging patients to use technology is a two-pronged strategy.
Sure, Patient X may love – or at least appreciate – gadgets and games, but also take into account and remind the patient that technology will help facilitate a goal that requires plenty of hard work. It’s not the kind of work patients often enjoy, either.
Still, there is no mutual exclusivity between leading a healthier lifestyle or treating chronic disease and enjoying oneself. Rice University engineering students put this idea to the test, constructing a rather effective videogame system consisting of Wii Balance Boards arranged between handrails and a screen to help children with cerebral palsy or spina bifida enjoy physical therapy and diagnostic testing.
As an expert in patient care, you should take advantage of the personality traits that will help your patients warm up to technology-based solutions and treatments.
Competitive personalities can engage in competitions with co-workers, friends, or strangers via technology, thriving from either encouragement or the trash-talk often seen on these kinds of platforms.
Such competitive platforms are especially useful to combat obesity. California-based HopeLab hopes to combat the child obesity epidemic with Zamzee, a device young students wear to track physical activity. Developers believe the game’s competitive dimension helps users remain 30% more physically active than non-users.
Naturally, as healthcare technology becomes more creative, your techniques will evolve as patients become more tech savvy and develop complex new needs. It’s important to keep your ear to the ground, and recognize the more comfortable you are with technological advances in your industry, the more likely your patient is to take your advice seriously. A rising tide lifts all boats, after all.
How do you get your patients to incorporate technologies into their regimens?