4 trends with the potential to change behavior in the patient journey

It's a common refrain in healthcare, heard among established companies and entrepreneurs alike, and among patients, providers, and payers: Despite massive investment, no one has figured out how to change human behavior.

Most illness is caused by what we do, or — to be more precise — what we fail to do. According to statistics issued by the CDC in 2014, up to 40% of annual deaths from each of five leading U.S. causes are due to “modifiable risk factors.”

Indeed, nudging people into healthy habits has proved difficult. That's despite decades of research done by and for behavior-change professionals, ranging from Lester Wunderman's direct-marketing theories in the 1960s to the insights into human psychology developed by B. J. Fogg of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab.

See also: Effective communication requires rethinking the patient experience

Study of how to change behavior has crossed from academia over to pop-sci with books like FreakonomicsNudge, and Hooked. And it's even started to filter into agencyland, with healthcare communications shops adopting such principles in the early 2000s. The ideas have infiltrated pharma, too.

Why is behavior change so nettlesome? One reason is that what motivates people to change varies from person to person, so solutions need to be customized. By and large this is lacking, says Dr. Maulik Majmudar, a cardiologist and associate director of the Healthcare Transformation Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Clinicians have a limited understanding of what makes people's lives tick. “Most physicians only see patients maybe once or twice a year if they're stable — maybe four times a year if they're unstable,” adds Dr. Majmudar, who's also a board member of the MIT Hacking Medicine Institute. “So it's very hard for us to have a meaningful impact on a consistent and continual basis.”

That's where technological solutions, like assistive tech or smartphone apps, can play a big role in monitoring and communicating with the healthcare team more frequently, he says.

See also: New mobile app seeks to address medication adherence

Of course, cautionary tales abound for newcomers: about 160,000 of them. That's the approximate number of health apps aimed at things like adherence that are available in the Apple and Android stores. According to a Compuware study in 2013, though, anywhere from 80% to 90% of all downloaded apps are used once and then eventually deleted by the users.

“From lifestyle changes to medication adherence, getting people to do what you want is still a big black box,” notes Sara Holoubek, CEO of Luminary Labs, a consultancy that works with healthcare innovation groups from big pharma to government agencies and nonprofits.

Whether medication compliance, kicking a bad habit, or some other form of behavior modification, change remains elusive, yet it's obviously extremely vital. Read on to see four trends that hold the promise of nudging healthier behavior along the patient journey.


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