4 Tips for GPs to Encourage Patient Self-Care
Encouraging patient self-care means giving patients the knowledge, tools and confidence to make choices and take actions to control and improve their health. This can have a positive impact on patients’ health and well-being as well as reducing stress on the health services.
The key is to help patients find and embrace appropriate strategies and treatments that they can apply themselves, while still ensuring they are given the right support and treatment from medical professionals as appropriate.
There are three main types of self-care we should work with patients to encourage:
- Life style changes to reduce the risk of health problems
- Self-treatment for minor illnesses
- Self-management of long-term conditions
Identifying the right self-care strategies for patients to take is often relatively straightforward, however actually getting patients to embrace self-care can be more challenging. Here are our top four tips for encouraging patient self-care.
Agreeing a unified strategy
It’s important that patients don’t get confused by conflicting advice from different healthcare professionals. If they are told one thing by their regular GP, something else by a locum GP and yet another thing by a nurse, they are likely to end up following the advice erratically (if at all) because they will be unsure which is the “correct” advice.
Instead, healthcare teams need to have agreed self-care strategies for different conditions which all team members are aware of. This means that a patient will hear the same thing from everyone on the team, reinforcing that this is the right approach and making them more likely to try it and stick with it.
Educating patients about self-care
Patients need to understand the goals of their self-care and why a particular recommended course of action will have a positive effect. We therefore need to make sure that the self-care processes we recommend are clearly explained to patients, including the rationale behind trying a particular approach and the positive effect it should have.
If patients understand why they are doing something and what positive changes to look for, they are more likely to engage with the process and notice when it has the desired effect.
It is a good idea to use websites, emails, practice waiting area posters and literature and any other available opportunities to provide information on self-care to help inform and educate patients.
Involving patients in decision making
The more you can involve patients in planning their self-care, the more likely they are to stick with it. This can be as simple as talking through the various options with a patient and getting them to help decide which will be most appropriate for them.
For example, if a patient needs to lose weight to help reduce their risk of obesity-related illness, going for a half-hour walk on their lunch break might be more realistic than joining a gym. By getting the patient to commit to smaller, more realistic forms of exercise, you are more likely to have a positive impact than by pushing them towards a bigger change they will not stick to.
Monitoring patients’ symptoms
It is absolutely vital that encouraging patient self-care does not end up in anyway resulting in a lower standard of clinical care provided to patients. It is therefore important to agree with patients ways to monitor their symptoms and any improvement or worsening of those symptoms.
By giving patients the confidence that you are still providing a high-level of clinical care, they will be more likely to take their self-care seriously. Knowing that you will be regularly monitoring their symptoms can also encourage them to stick to the agreed self-care plan as they know that you will be able to tell if they haven’t been following the suggested regime.
Find GP out-of-hours work while encouraging patient self-care
East Berkshire Primary Care (EBPC) Out of Hours Service is a non-profit social enterprise supplying NHS services to East Berkshire Clinical Commissioning Groups covering Bracknell Forest, Slough, Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead. One of the core services we provide is urgent out-of-hours medical care supported by GPs working out-of-hours.
Part of our GPs’ role is to encourage patient self-care where appropriate, while also offering first-rate patient care to ensure the best possible outcome for patients. We give our doctors the highest levels of support to ensure they have the knowledge and tools they need to work flexibly and effectively, providing a better service both for GPs and for patients.
In a recent survey over 95% of GPs said they felt they were well supported by EBPC management and the same percentage said they were able to provide the standard of care they wished. This shows our strong commitment to providing a great working environment for our doctors and the very best care for our patients.