Health and Social Behaviour Change

Healthcare professional behaviour change conference - Manchester

'Technological solutions to support healthcare professional behaviour change’

That was the title of the event in Manchester last week – hosted and organised by Manchester Pharmacy School in collaboration with Manchester Centre for Health Psychology and Manchester Medical School, held at Manchester University.

The event was a networking opportunity for those of us in attendance with keynote addresses taking centre stage before giving way to q&a sessions.

Discussion topics included:
- What is the rationale for behaviour change in healthcare professionals (HCPs)?
- What is the value of theory in HCP behaviour change?
- How can technology be incorporated into practice? What are the barriers/facilitators?

Whether it’s discussing with healthcare colleagues the theory behind behaviour change – with a view to considering their own behaviour change as well as that of their patients, or focusing on what’s possible technologically it was clear from the speakers and the delegates, that there is an appetite for this shift in service delivery.

Which was wonderful to hear!

From my previous role as a commissioner of drug and alcohol treatment services, I can certainly relate to both the passion and some of the challenges faced by healthcare professionals.  A local authority commissioner for nearly 10 years – and working alongside d2 Digital for much of that time - I learnt a great deal about the use of digital technologies to support behaviour change ... and what some of the barriers are that we face in trying to roll out digital interventions.

However by combining the theories of behaviour change with the theories of persuasive technology we are able to offer professionals and patients effective and evidence based interventions.

There is no doubt in my mind about the huge potential for using digital technologies to deliver behaviour change interventions. They also provide the opportunity to monitor and support patients remotely. If digital products are co-produced with the needs of the end user and practitioner uppermost in mind then digital interventions are generally more acceptable to all involved.

To be clear: I am not advocating that digital interventions are for everyone and nor should they automatically replace the traditional face to face sessions for those who need them.  However I believe that they do have a very significant role to play in enhancing any behaviour change, be that directly through the end user 'self-helping' or through supported remote access.

So what gets in the way of professionals embracing digital technologies?

Well I understand this to a certain extent, using digital technologies to deliver interventions is a fundamental shift in the way healthcare providers – and even commissioners - have traditionally worked and having the time to facilitate such a fundamental change is problematic. Additionally, the belief in the effectiveness of the end result is just as crucial.

From my experience, some healthcare providers are uneasy with change that may affect workflow, documentation, and patient care. Furthermore for healthcare providers who strive to deliver excellence in patient care, any technology that changes tried and tested methods of care must first overcome issues of trust and concern; healthcare providers need to be convinced that new technology will also look out for the well-being of their patients.

So what did have an impact with regards to implementation of any technological changes we tried introducing?

I found that a lot of the healthcare staff working in my commissioned services viewed technology as being complex and hard to learn – fair point, sometimes it can be.  As a result, I often heard it said that any new technology would add additional time and pressure to their already busy schedules. Again as a commissioner I had to listen to these concerns; after all, my providers knew their day to day running processes better than I did. However my job was to overcome these barriers with them: so, new technology must seamlessly integrate into workflow processes and the user interface must be easy to use and access.

The technology must also have an observable impact on improving patient care and be well received by the service users themselves.  A mixture of using new technology combined with the traditional methods of delivering care made the introduction of the digital interventions more acceptable and, when evaluated positively by those in receipt of the services, in turn more successful. It also provided the best learning environment for healthcare staff; where they could see the application of the technology in the real-life settings they worked in day to day, they understood how to use the technology quicker and easier.

For me, an on-going firm belief in all of the possibilites afforded by embracing these technologies has led me here, to d2 Digital by Design Ltd. My role here at d2 is to work with commissioners / policy makers / strategists and providers, to help them overcome these and any barriers they face when implementing digital services and/or tools.

Digital interventions are another but a fundamental tool to support those who want and need to change their behaviour, be that through on-line self or supported help, to become happier and healthier individuals - I am both passionate and resolute in this belief.