Self-care has become a regular topic of conversation as people look for effective ways to cope with stress, uncertainty, constant change, and other far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With so many patients interested in self-care right now, providers can use this window of opportunity to encourage behavior change that leads to long-term improvements in health outcomes and total cost of care.
The key is to establish a model of behavior change that uses empathetic listening and health coaching to help patients build self-efficacy and pursue healthy lifestyle changes.
Every healthcare provider knows that behavior change has a huge impact on a patient’s future health, and every payer knows that it’s the best way to influence the total cost of care.
Behavior change is key to addressing many health concerns related to nutrition, exercise, sleep, smoking, and more. When patients can implement lifestyle changes in these areas, it can help prevent a host of chronic conditions and diseases: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), some cancers, and more.
But the traditional fee-for-service model of healthcare makes behavior change difficult for patients to achieve because it generates revenue by volume — seeing more patients, conducting more tests, and doing more procedures. This forces providers to focus only on a patient’s most immediate symptoms, often leaving no time for a conversation about their future risks and their lifestyle choices.
Bringing behavior change within reach
Providers can help patients achieve behavior change by developing a trusting relationship, treating the patient’s full biopsychosocial health, and providing ongoing support. Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the University of Houston College of Medicine, describes it this way:
“Remember that 50% of problems that patients bring to their primary care doctors are not biological. They're psychosocial.”
The only way to bring behavior change within reach for patients is to create a model of care that focuses on health outcomes, not volume of services. That’s what Vera’s APC model is designed to do: nurture every patient towards behavior change that positively impacts health outcomes and cost of care. Through empathetic listening and health coaching, the APC model gives providers the tools to help patients build self-efficacy and establish healthy habits.
How providers can link self-care to positive behavior change
Why is it so important for healthcare providers to step into the self-care conversation and help patients direct their energy towards forming healthy behaviors? Because self-care is a broad category of activities, not all of which directly impact physical health. This means that it is easy for the distinction between healthy and unhealthy behaviors to become blurred.
And during times of heightened stress like the COVID-19 pandemic, people are at risk of developing or exacerbating unhealthy behaviors in the name of “self-care.” Here’s how Cheridan Bryant, Coaching Operations Manager at Vera Whole Health, describes the circumstance that many patients are finding themselves in right now:
“I have more time to do self-care, but what do I do with that? And how do I not just watch TV, or Google things or YouTube to replace that? So I think [coaching] is helping people ask: is that proactive self-care, or is that numbing it? What are the things you can do for yourself to re-energize?”
More than ever, people are looking for guidance on how to practice self-care — and what that really means is that they want to form new habits that will help them feel better. Through Vera’s APC model, providers and health coaches have the resources and training they need to help patients build self-efficacy and make healthy behavior changes.
In the beginning, it could be as simple as drinking more water, reducing screen time, or getting fresh air every day. But helping patients establish a reasonable, achievable, healthy self-care routine could be the gateway towards behavior change that changes the future course of their health.