Sometimes medical providers have a tendency to focus on the seriousness and sophistication of care.
When we're about to give a shot, we emphasize that it might hurt. When we prescribe a medicine, we don't always explain the pathway simply -- sometimes we use jargon that makes sense to only the other providers in the room.
We get most excited about care plans that are cutting edge.
But a recent study caught my eye as evidence that we might be better off focusing on the simplicity, ease, and fun of a care plan, rather than the more rigorous or medically important aspects.
A recent article in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at the trend of emphasizing the health merits of foods. We see things advertised as high protein, high fiber, or farm-fresh -- and we assume that these descriptors are attractive to people.
As the study reports, "Ironically however, health-focused labeling of food may be counter-effective, as people rate foods that they perceive to be healthier as less tasty."
So the researchers created a study to see whether health-focused labeling is better or worse than just a neutral label -- and better or worse than how junk food is described.
Researchers watched 27,933 students (with some staff) in a dining hall over 46 days. Each day, the researchers offered the same vegetables, but named them differently. For instance, the sweet potatoes might be described as "zesty ginger-turmeric sweet potatoes” instead of just “sweet potatoes." That change, in fact, resulted in 25 percent more people choosing the vegetable. And, as the New York Times summarizes, "35 percent more customers chose the zesty label than the health-positive 'wholesome sweet potato superfood,' and 41 percent more chose it than the scolding 'cholesterol-free sweet potatoes.'"
Across all of the vegetables, the study concludes that vegetables were most likely to be chosen when they had "flavorful, exciting, and indulgent descriptors" rather than neutral ones, or (even worse), descriptors touting their health benefits.
It's a simple study, with results that may seem obvious. But the implications for how you talk about care plans could be significant. It's human nature to want to choose fun things over healthy things -- and there's no reason we can't frame care the same way we frame sweet potatoes. Care coordination is more than assuring appointments are kept; it is about ensuring a good attitude and thus good compliance for improving health. If the patient buys into your recommendations, you are making value, and you will get paid (telehealth with value based care and MACRA).
For instance, your heart patient might need to lose weight so he'll add years to his life. But is it possible that losing weight could also make his August vacation more fun and active? That might be the component to focus on. The shift also makes us reflect on the continuum of care, as different people on the team should be collaborating on things as seemingly mundane as the verbal phrasing of a care plan -- and that requires strong medical collaboration and care coordination -- and a medical collaboration tool.
Care is far more than how we describe it, of course -- but if subtle changes in verbiage can benefit your patient's outcomes, it could be worth experimenting with.
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Image: Carol Mitchell