N-of-1 studies: What can we learn by studying a single case?

Posted Posted in Assessment, Interventions

By Marie Johnston and Derek Johnston, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Practitioners frequently want the answer to a problem which concerns one person, one health care team, one hospital or one region etc.  For example, it may be important to know how often an obese man snacks, when and where he snacks and if stress makes it worse.   Or you may wish to find out how often members of the healthcare team omit hand hygiene, if it is worse when they are under-staffed and if ward adverts improve it.  Or you may be investigating sources of clinical errors to check if they are more common on some wards or for some grades of staff.  Or, at a policy level, it might be valuable to investigate whether a new regulation, such as a smoking ban in public places has affected smoking rates.

You might try to answer these questions by asking people what they think or remember but it would be better to ask or observe at the critical  times and places to avoid problems of bias and forgetting. Recent technological advances such as digital monitoring using smartphones make it easier to track what is going on in real time and an n-of-1 study might allow you to answer your question.

N-of-1 studies are possible when the problem can be assessed repeatedly to look at change over time.  Then one can describe the problem and examine whether it is better or worse under some conditions.  Or one may introduce a new intervention or treatment and assess whether it is having the proposed effect.

The simplest evaluation of the data collected is the observation of trends on a graph as in the illustrations below.  This is an essential step in any n-of-1 analysis and can be sufficient. Additionally, there are methods of statistical analyses for n-of-1 studies.  More complex methods continue to be developed (e.g., methods for assessing dynamic change ).

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Physical activity in older age: how much is enough?

Posted Posted in Goal setting, Motivational interviewing, Self-monitoring

By Anne Tiedemann, The University of Sydney, Australia

“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it”… Plato, 400 BC.

It’s long been known that making physical activity a regular habit is important for health and wellbeing. But health promotion messages often target children and young people, with less focus on the importance of physical activity in people aged 65 years and over. However, older age is a crucial time for making activity part of every day.

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Raising weight in a consultation

Posted Posted in Communication

By Jane Ogden, University of Surrey, UK

Weight is a tricky problem to talk about in a consultation. Some patients may be sick of hearing the words ‘You could lose some weight’ every time they visit the clinic: regardless of whether they have come in because of a sore throat, a cervical smear or a potential heart problem. They may have experienced a lifetime of feeling stigmatised by the medical profession and think that all anyone ever sees is their body size. While this is so for some individuals, others may have never considered their weight as an issue, and could be insulted or surprised if it is raised. Some people may simply not want to hear the message and block out whatever is said, thinking for example ‘what do you know – you’re thin / fat / too young / too old’ or ‘science is always wrong.’ Raising the issue of weight therefore requires careful management of ‘when,’ ‘how’ and ‘what’ is said to an overweight person.

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Self-efficacy: The “can-do” belief that lets people change their lifestyles

Posted Posted in Motivation, Self-efficacy

By Ralf Schwarzer, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany and SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Poland

Changing behavior may often be desirable but difficult to do. For example, quitting smoking, eating healthily and sticking to a physical exercise regimen all require motivation, effort, and persistence. While many psychological factors play a role in behavior change, self-efficacy is one of the most important.

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Telling stories about caring for others

Posted Posted in Social Support

By Irina Todorova, Health Psychology Research Center in Sofia, Bulgaria

Taking care of aging loved ones, who are perhaps in frail health, can be a complicated and confusing experience that is both gratifying and frustrating. Medical science is helping people live longer, healthier lives, and in some cases can slow down the cognitive decline that frequently come with age. The way that families care for older members, as well as the meaning of aging, dementia and caregiving varies across cultural contexts. Most people are aging at home as members of their communities, which has psychosocial benefits for the older person as well as for the different generations of family members. At the same time, caring for people with declining health is accompanied with physical effort, psychological strain, grief related to ongoing loss and possibly financial difficulties for the caregiver. (more…)

Motivation and the first steps toward physical activity

Posted Posted in Goal setting, Motivation, Self-regulation

By Keegan Knittle, University of Helsinki, Finland

Here’s a familiar story from primary care: an individual who would clearly benefit from more physical activity comes into the clinic. We discuss their physical (in)activity, and in the end, the person says they just aren’t motivated to change. What’s a clinician supposed to do? How can we motivate this person to at least consider changing their behavior for the better? Or better yet, how can we help them to form good intentions for being active?

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Positive psychology interventions at work

Posted Posted in Intervention design, Interventions

By Alexandra Michel, Federal Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, Germany and Annekatrin Hoppe, Humboldt Universität, Germany

Employees spend a major part of their waking time at work. It is no surprise then that reducing demands and increasing resources (e.g., autonomy, social support, self-efficacy) at work are important in promoting employees’ work-life balance, well-being and health. Over the last years, research has examined not only ways to repair the negative consequences of work stress, but also ways to promote resources to improve employees’ well-being at work. Especially, introducing positive psychology interventions to the workplace is a new avenue in the occupational health psychology field. Positive psychology interventions focus on building resources and preventing resource loss, and include activities that aim to cultivate positive feelings, behaviors and cognitions. In this blog post, we highlight three approaches that can help employees to build their resources and foster well-being at work.

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Patient talk: What the doctor clearly says, and the patient clearly does not understand

Posted Posted in Communication

By Anne Marie Plass, University Medical Center of Göttingen, Germany

Sometime ago a dermatologist who works as a psoriasis (a chronic skin disorder) -specialist in a university hospital, complained to me about many patients who do not adhere to the therapy, even though a mutual goal has been set, and a shared decision has been made.

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What happens with medications when they go home?

Posted Posted in Medication adherence

By Kerry Chamberlain, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand

What do people do with medications once they enter the home? Surprisingly, limited research has attempted to answer that question. Yet, it is important – most medications are consumed at home under the control of the consumer. Prescription medicines are regulated, but once prescribed and collected, they are presumed to be taken as directed. People also can access and use a wide range of over-the-counter medications (e.g., for pain relief), alternative medications (e.g., homeopathic preparations), and other health-related preparations that are less obviously medications (e.g., dietary supplements, probiotic drinks). However, we should note that access to all forms of medication can vary considerably between countries.

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How to set goals that work?

Posted Posted in Goal setting, Planning

By Tracy Epton, University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Goal setting is a popular technique

There are many different techniques that can be used to change behaviour (93 according to a recent list!). Goal setting is a well-known technique that most people have used at some point. Goal setting is used by charities (e.g., Alcohol Concern, a UK charity, asked people to set a goal to quit drinking for the month of January), as part of commercial weight loss programmes and even in fitness apps. One recent review looked at a 384 tests of the effectiveness of goal setting across a range of different fields to see if goal setting really works, which types of goals work best and if goal setting works for everyone.

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