Key drivers of preventable health care costs in the United Kingdom include unhealthy but changeable behaviours such as physical inactivity, unhealthy eating habits, drinking too much and smoking. A lot of people set abstract goals to eat healthier or exercise more, but struggle when it comes to putting these goals into action. There are two main facets of putting goals into action. The first, goal intention, refers to “mental representations of desired behaviour and end states.” The second, implementation intention, refers to “mental representations of simple plans to translate goal intentions into behaviour under specific conditions.”
A number of studies have found that technology can be a powerful tool in influencing implementation intentions. One recent study assessed the impact that frequent health reminders delivered by a mobile health app had on implementation intentions and behaviour change. The findings indicated that such reminders were significant; participants who received frequent reminders were more likely to report a change in behaviour.
The basis of this study is supported by nudge theory, which is “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their incentives.” Nudge theory is centred around positive reinforcement. For example, reminding a patient that they will have younger looking skin if they stop smoking is a nudge, but confiscating their cigarettes is not.
Our new feature Pathways supports nudge theory, allowing users to schedule a series of delayed SMS messages to patients. A lot of our users have fed back to us that this tool can be extremely powerful in influencing patients to fulfil their goals of living healthier lifestyles and generally improving their health. The feature can also be useful in helping patients who struggle with mental health related issues such as depression. One of our users mentioned that they plan to use Pathways to periodically send patients with various forms of depression tips for how to manage their depression, links to NHS leaflets and encouragement to contact the practice when they need assistance.
In addition to improving patient experience, Pathways can also be a huge time saver for practices, who can use the service to text patients referral reminders instead of having to chase these up by phone. Pathways can also empower GPs to be proactive about following up with patients who’ve had medication changes (such as U+Es, TFTs and HbA1c)—something that most practices don’t currently have the bandwidth to do. We’ve even provided some pathways templates that cover topics from healthy lifestyle nudges to referral reminders to home BP monitoring reminders.
Pathways can be a powerful tool in improving patient experience and influencing healthy behaviour change in your community. Each user will get one pathway per day on us. If you’d like your practice to be able to send unlimited pathways, please put your CCG in touch with us. You can find more info on pathways here.