Doctor patient talking

Behavioral health interventions: The importance of communication and new technology

June 26, 2015

As we move toward a more patient-centered form of health care, health care providers now are beginning to focus more on specific patient behaviors and how lifestyle contributes to overall health. This makes transparency and effective communication between patients and physicians an essential component to a doctor’s ability to provide quality care.

“Unfortunately, patients as well as doctors can be leery of discussing particular topics they are either uncomfortable with or that are of a sensitive nature,” says Regents and Distinguished Professor Marcia G. Ory, Ph.D., with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health. “Some topics may even cause patients to become defensive when questioned about them, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, or mental health.”

Ory notes that clinicians are sometimes reluctant to bring up emotional health issues for fear that they won’t have time to respond. In reality, not dealing with such issues is often counterproductive because anxious or depressed patients often have more trouble managing their health conditions and end up taking more of a clinician’s time.

So how do clinicians bring up need-to-alter behaviors in a way that is motivating and non-judgmental?

This is the question behind new research regarding strategies health care providers can implement to encourage open communication and collaboration with patients.

Recent studies have emphasized the use of mobile devices as a means of collecting information from patients. As mobile devices have flooded daily use, they have become increasingly popular as a way to increase patient-physician communication. With the help of new research, these innovative technologies are now being used as a way to collect and analyze patient data securely, define patient goals, create support networks, and monitor health improvement progress.

Recently, Ory,  Yan Alicia Hong, Ph.D., associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and several other researchers at Baylor Scott and White HealthCare published an article online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mhealth and Uhealth on the use of mobile devices by primary care physicians and their patients. This particular study examined the usability of mobile devices to promote healthy behaviors and chronic disease prevention for such health issues as diabetes and obesity.

In “Using the iPod touch for Patient Health Behavior Assessment and Health Promotion in Primary Care,” researchers concluded that patients were able to complete a health behavior assessment from their doctor’s office using the iPod touch with relative ease. In addition, researchers found that when physicians engaged their patients on the report generated by the assessment, patients were much more likely to put into practice the behavioral changes suggested by their physicians than those who did not. This tool provided patients with the opportunity to engage with their physician in a one-on-one setting, while receiving individualized healthcare suggestions that facilitate effective behavioral change.

“The vast majority of patients found the device extremely user-friendly,” said Samuel N. Forjuoh, Dr.P.H., M.D., Ph.D., the principal investigator of the project. “In addition, the iPod touch minimizes survey response error, is reliable in eliciting sensitive data in a private and confidential manner, provides easy data storage and transportation, and is a promising device to assist behavioral change within a diverse population of varying age groups, genders, ethnicities, and health status.”

The ways through which clinicians practice health care continues to change. Knowing a patient’s behavior patterns and emotional state can create better informed physicians and allow for more individualized care. Whether through one-on-one discussion or through mobile technology, it is important for health care providers to find ways to help patients address their emotional concerns and lifestyle behaviors that can act as barriers to good health and well-being.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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