Motivating Patients to Change for the Better

One of the great challenges for physicians is to motivate their patients to make positive health behavior changes. Unfortunately, training on motivation, communication, and patient psychology is typically lacking throughout educational curriculums. Changing patient behaviors requires different strategies that must be tailored to each individual in order to be effective. Greater effort is needed on cultivating the communication and relationship skills that are necessary for motivating patients. A motivational strategy that has been explored in clinical research has been the use of pictures to get individuals to quit smoking. Images of plaque in the coronary or carotid arteries have been used in an attempt to induce a transformative, emotional learning experience that will motivate patients to improve unhealthy habits. Although this practice is intuitively appealing and commonly done, there is little evidence that this approach results in clinically significant change in behavior. Findings from the few studies that have addressed this question indicate that the process and psychodynamics of behavioral change will be qualitatively different for various diseases and psychosocial situations. Tailoring Approaches to Motivate Patients At the patient–physician interface, we need to redirect and intensify our focus for enhancing motivational change on the human relationship dimension. It is clearly worthwhile to further study the motivational impact of atherosclerosis imaging on unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, poor diet, and medication non-adherence in at-risk patients. The key is to find approaches that support efforts to take advantage of the teachable moment in patients who are ready to make changes in their health behaviors. That requires appropriate patient selection and tailored interventions. “A paradigm shift in prioritizing and...