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Narrating Change: People Can’t Be Motivated by What They Don’t Know

Monday, October 26, 2015
Burn gel relieves pain on contact. You can see a cut or scrape start to heal over the course of a week. And when a medication helps us feel better, we’re motivated to keep taking it. When change happens quickly, it’s easy for people to see or feel the change and be motivated. But it’s much harder to be motivated by small, incremental changes we don’t notice.
 
When a car accident in grad school landed me in long-term physical therapy, at first there were real milestones: removing the sling, stiffness in my neck noticeably improved, but then I felt like I hit a wall. Was the physical therapy doing anything? Small comments from various therapists about improvements they would notice and narrate when they saw me a week or two later really made a difference to my psychology to keep going.
 
In Annette McKinnon’s article on becoming a more engaged and health literate patient as she learned to cope with rheumatoid arthritis, she explains how a turning point came for her when her trusted physical therapist convinced her to persist with one easy exercise as part of her daily routine. The moment that made such a difference was a simple comment by a new specialist. During a routine trial assessment he commented, “You have good muscle tone in your abs.”
 
As Annette explains, “This amazed me. After 15 years with sore feet and hands and very little exercise, making an effort to do one small exercise actually made a difference. The fact the doctor was a specialist who saw many people with RA gave the comment even more impact. For her it was a mere observation, but for me this information was new motivation. I redoubled my efforts to change for the better and be more active, and started learning Arthro-Pilates.”
 
Narrating these small changes for patients can have profound effects. Sometimes it’s done during a physical exam, or it can be narrated as notes are entered in the medical record. How are you helping people recognize incremental improvements?
 
 

October Health Literacy Month Blog Series


Check out articles by:

  • Patients, like Randi & Gary Oster, on the transition from pediatric to adolescent/adult care.
  • Family caregivers, like Regina Holliday, on transitioning her husband from hospital to at-home hospice.
  • Thought leaders, like Carol Levine, on health literacy and palliative care.
  • Health literacy researchers, like Michael Paasche-Orlow, on the role it plays in care transitions.
  • Physicians, like Dr. Joseph Geskey, who writes about the challenges of transitioning his own father from hospital to home.
  • And patient engagement designers, like Emily Azari, on Transitioning to caring for an Ostomy

To view links to all the articles in this year’s series on health literacy and transitions, visit EngagingThePatient.
 

Tags: patient engagement, health literacy
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