Building collaboration between behavioural research and practice to improve health

By Katherine Brown, University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

The content of this blog post is in part drawn from my experiences working in a split role between a university and a local government public health department, with the opportunity to apply my research, intervention development and evaluation skills in practice.

Whether you’re commissioning, managing, designing or delivering health services, chances are there’s at least one behaviour that you need your service users to change for the service to successfully achieve its targets. This is because, regardless of the disease(s) your service targets, or whether these are communicable (e.g., flu, Covid-19, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections) or non-communicable (e.g., heart disease, COPD, type 2 diabetes, obesity), the way people behave contributes to the overall disease burden. This is not to say people should be blamed for their ill-health and considered to be solely responsible for their own health and wellbeing. Quite the opposite! A person’s health status is also the consequence of genetic, biological, social and environmental determinants. Consideration of these factors is key for health improvement and protection.

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Lost (and found) in translation: Effective communication with patients

By Zuzana Dankulincova, Pavol Jozef Safarik University, Slovakia

While most researchers are aware that disseminating study results is part of their ethical responsibility to research participants (and wish for their research findings to have clear, practical implications), the transition from awareness of evidence to widespread implementation can take a long time. Scientific knowledge is not always applied to everyday practice; when it is, it is usually not done consistently or systematically.

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​​Make or break: the importance of breaks in healthcare

By Julia Allan, Aberdeen University, Scotland

Modern life is hectic. We live in an increasingly ‘switched on’ digital world where periods of true respite from work are rare. Many people regularly work for lengthy periods and this is particularly the case for health professionals working in frontline healthcare services. In the healthcare context, working hours and demands are typically high, shifts routinely exceed the 8 hours of a ‘normal’ working day, and work demands can be relentless in nature. If a continuous series of patients require urgent care, health professionals are obligated to provide it, regardless of how busy they have been, or how long they have been working. As a result of these high demands, missed breaks are extremely common in healthcare settings – for example, it is reported that  1 in 10 nurses never take a proper break and 1 in 3 rarely or never take meal breaks during shifts.

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Linking the Elephant to the Rider: The Role of Motivation

By António Labisa Palmeira, CIDEFES – Universidade Lusófona, Portugal; ISBNPA Executive Director

Long-term motivation for health-related behaviors can come from different sources. Behavioral scientists are still trying to work out how these sources fit together. For example, I go running nearly every day and have done so for 30+ years. How and why have I maintained this pattern? Daniel Kahnemann would suggest that dual motivational systems are at play: a system 1 that deals with instincts and emotions, and a system 2 that is deliberative and conscious. He might argue that system 2 prompts me to run because I am aware of the health benefits of exercise. On the other hand, Ed Deci might suggest that I am intrinsically motivated to run and do it because it aligns with my values and self and because I enjoy it.

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Your intervention, your way! Short appraisal interventions

by Katarzyna Cantarero, SWPS University, Poland

Subjective well-being is a function of what we were born with, situations that pop up in our lives and (luckily!) what we intentionally do. Many researchers have examined what can effectively boost our psychological functioning. Short appraisal (or affirmation) interventions can be one helpful tool in enhancing positive outcomes for people.

Research shows that short writing tasks (e.g., gratitude lists or letters) can enhance psychological well-being. In a large multi-lab study, researchers from 87 countries indicated that simple reappraisal interventions (i.e., changing how one feels about a situation or focusing on positive aspects of a situation) boosted positive emotions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Appraising an event that is potentially stressful can be helpful in drawing benefits from it. During these appraisal tasks, individuals come up with arguments about the positive side of situations they find themselves in. 

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Carrying counseling outside the clinic: The promising potential of mobile technology

Egon Dejonckheere & Peter Kuppens, KU Leuven, Belgium.

Many forms of counseling and psychotherapy still predominantly take place within the therapy room. Yet, once patients leave the therapy room, they sometimes struggle to face their challenges, seize opportunities to get better, and implement what they learned in session. Evidence shows that therapeutic practice can greatly benefit from having direct access to information about what takes place in people’s daily lives. Such information can identify ways to intervene, and effectively close the gap between counseling sessions and real life. 

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Helping patients manage their condition: Illness representations matter

By Yael Benyamini, Tel Aviv University, Israel and Evangelos C. Karademas, University of Crete, Greece

Anna and Mary are both healthy 45-year-old women, living in a large European city. Each of them knows several people who have contracted COVID-19 and constantly hears and reads about it. Anna believes it is a very serious disease, and is very concerned that if she contracts it, even though she believes that given her age she will recover, she will probably suffer from long-term bothersome symptoms. She works from home as much as possible, never walks outside without a mask, and is waiting for the next dose of vaccination.

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How new insights into stress can help calm the worried mind

Bart Verkuil, Department of Clinical Psychology, Leiden University, The Netherlands and PEP Group, Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

“What if I get infected and end up in the hospital?” “What if I can’t pay my bills in a few months?” “What effect will this lockdown have on my children’s the health?”

The threat of the coronavirus is having a huge impact on most of our lives. To determine what measures need to be taken and to estimate what risks we are facing, scientists use statistical models to gain insight into the spread of the virus. This surely helps to gain some control over this pandemic. Interestingly, we as individual human beings are continuously acting like these scientists, but in a more automatic manner; our human minds can be thought of as ‘prediction machines’, constantly estimating whether we are currently at risk of getting infected, losing our jobs or being criticized. Yet, there are large differences in how people estimate these risks and for some people these estimations spiral down to intense worries.

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If medicine is a team game, patients should play too: a psychological perspective on patient engagement

By G. Graffigna, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy

Healthcare professionals along the whole care journey must collaborate and coordinate their efforts for healthcare systems to function effectively. In other words, medicine requires teamwork to be successful. If we agree on this principle, then –adopting a sports metaphor –the patient too should be considered a player in the team!

The concept of patient engagement recognizes this, and it is an important ingredient for enhancing the effectiveness and sustainability of healthcare.

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How to support patients to lose weight and better manage their type 2 diabetes

By Leah Avery, Teesside University, UK.

Type 2 diabetes was previously considered a progressive condition, with an inevitable need for insulin therapy, however lifestyle behavioural change research challenges this pessimistic prognosis. As prevalence of type 2 diabetes continues to increase, so does evidence supporting the important role of the food and changing what we eat to successfully manage the condition.

Dietary approaches can largely be divided into two. Those that focus on what we eat (e.g., carbohydrates) to optimise metabolism and glycaemic control via slow and steady weight loss. Others that focus on the amount eaten, such as the low-calorie diet involving significant energy restriction for rapid weight loss.

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