Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Will Teach You to be Healthy !

One of the biggest problems in medicine today is managing patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, arthritis, hypertension and obesity . These are primarily lifestyle diseases , and while doctors can prescribe medicines to treat some of the consequences of these diseases, the most effective long term solution involves improving the patient’s lifestyle by changing his behavior. The problem is that changing behavior is extremely hard to do , as we all know from personal experience
( keep a track of how quickly you will end up breaking your 2014 New Year’s Resolution to eat healthily and to exercise daily ! )

So why do people ( most of whom are rational and intelligent and understand the importance of stopping smoking or losing weight ) find it so hard to actually do this in real life ? It’s obviously not that they don't understand why they need to do this – or even how to do it. There’s plenty of information available on these topics and the doctor can easily tell them what they need to so !

The reason why very few people can actually implement this well-meaning advise in real life is because most of this information is just theoretical advice . It’s a long list of what they are not allowed to do – and no adult likes being lectured to !

Also, patients carry a lot of emotional baggage . They remember the last time they tried to stop smoking and failed miserably. They start doubting their “will-power” and start thinking of themselves as being failures.

There is no magic key by which we can get people to improve their behavior. However, one of the most effective way of doing this is by getting them to interact with other people who've been successful in overcoming the same hurdle – someone just like them, who has “been there , done
that “.

These experts serve as role models of success  and are far more inspiring for patients , because their advise is much more believable and actionable. When patients see that someone who was in exactly the same situation they are in was able to master their problem and succeed in fixing it, then they have renewed hope that they do so this as well.

Equally importantly , this person talks exactly the same language as the patient , so that it’s easier for the patient to identify with him. Also, the advise is likely to be more trusted, because patients understand that the expert patient has no axe to grind and is doing it because he wants to help.  Patients need this kind of support and motivation , because they know their mentor will be rooting for them and cheering them on.

Expert patients are likely to be happy to help, if we provide them with a platform which they can use; and pay them for their services. Most will be very pleased about the fact that they can help someone else to learn from their expertise and advice . While doctors, nurses and health professionals will always be in short supply, there will never be a shortage of expert patients who are happy to help others ! Expert patients will need to teach patients  how to change, and the trick is to get them to focus on their strengths. We all have areas  of life in which we have succeeded – we just need to learn to apply these success skill sets to our healthy behavior, in order change the undesirable behavior .

( The title of this post has been borrowed from Ramit Sethi's bestseller, I Will Teach You to be Rich )

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