Feb 29, 2016

Changing patient behaviour: knowledge is power, but how should we use it?

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Being a London based healthcare communications agency we're lucky enough to be able to drop in at the Royal Society of Medicine. Last week we attended a lecture by Professor Jeremy Nicholson, hosted by The London Clinic and the RSM, looking at the changing landscape of the global health agenda and of medical technologies1.

Preventative medicine has been hailed as the gold standard for a long time, even Benjamin Franklin said that, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Prevention is something we've prioritised through community education, promoting positive lifestyle habits and even vaccines, and these combined form the basis of how we keep ourselves healthy. We've never known more about our health, and health has never been higher up on our list of priorities. But despite our growing understanding, the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is rising2, and bacterial infections are becoming more difficult to treat3, so why, when we know how to prevent, control and in many cases treat them, is this happening worldwide? And, more importantly, what should be done about it?

According to The World Health Organisation, infections are becoming increasingly difficult to treat due to antimicrobial resistance, with common conditions such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections seeing high spikes in antibiotic resistance3. Firmly on the global health agenda, antimicrobial resistance has been ascribed to over prescribing medications and a lack of new research and development4, it's even been predicted that gonorrhoea may soon become untreatable because a lack of R&D into new forms of drugs able to treat it3.

NCDs, another priority for global health organisations, are accountable for 63% of deaths worldwide2. Typically attributable to negative lifestyle habits, prevention of these conditions is considered within reach by identifying the early risk factors and helping individuals avoid them. But with NCDs, like type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease, expected to rise by 17% globally over the next ten years, more effective communication and education may still be needed2. In the face of all our efforts to prevent these conditions, it's clear that further steps are required to slow down the increasing health burden of long term, chronic illnesses.

Many are asking what we should be doing about these two pressing health issues, and many are offering advice. The estimates for the growing burden of these diseases show that, in the current form, prevention efforts may not be enough and the pressures on healthcare systems will continue to grow.

Identifying the risk factors, and changing behaviour to reflect these risk factors, are two very different practices - and needs a comprehensive communication and education plan to see real life change.