Many health practitioners find themselves excited by something relatively simple these days – vegetables. For decades, we’ve been told that a prescription is the easiest and fastest way to control a medical condition. But, every day it seems another study is released that supports using food and lifestyle as a treatment for many of the most common chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and even some cancers. This has led to a dramatic rise in the number of practitioners who prefer a more natural approach to helping patients achieve their best health.
So how can health practitioners effectively talk with patients and show them that there’s a different way? More importantly, how can they inspire individuals to change their daily activity and the foods they’re putting on their plate?
In short, it’s all about engaging patients in the learning process and putting smart tools in place to deliver and reinforce the education. As practitioners identify (or develop) their preferred tools, following a few key guidelines will facilitate success:
Create a system of support. Keep in mind that while you may be excited, this is likely a big change for your patients. They need to feel like their practitioner is their partner, always standing with them. Consider a newsletter where helpful tips and encouragement are regularly delivered to their inbox; Forks Over Knives is a great model example. Group programs can also be extremely beneficial, allowing a patient to interact with other patients, or even their provider outside the traditional office setting; Walk with a Doc has proven to be a tremendous resource. Social media groups are slightly more complex to develop and maintain, however many patients find them especially helpful, as long as they remain HIPAA-compliant and private. No matter what support tools are put in place, the main objective is to let patients know that their practitioner is there for them and available to assist with expert guidance when needed.
Offer a path forward based on their unique needs. While some individuals hear the message and are ready to start right away, others may need a slightly gentler approach. For those who are all-in, jumpstart programs like the 15-day program offered by Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute or the Plantstrong Retreat provide a fantastic option. Otherwise, direct patients towards programs like Meatless Mondays or simply encourage them to pick a new recipe and try it each week. For these individuals, there’s no shame in slowly replacing meat and dairy options with plant-nutritious alternatives.
Help them learn at their own pace. Many lifestyle medicine and nutrition-focused websites have resource pages with endless lists of websites, documentaries, research studies and the like. Dr. Michael Klaper’s site is great and so is the list from Healthy City. Consider consolidating some of these resource options to create a collection that’s personalized to what your patients will tap into. Then, share it with them either by having copies around your office or emailing it to them via PDF; WFPB+ME has a great two-sided model format.
Provide a complete educational resource. It’s not enough to just tell patients that you recommend these types of changes. Show them why it’s so important, what benefits they’ll experience and then make it easy to get started. The Plantrician Project offers an amazing QuickStart Guide that’s easily sharable (with a pediatric version, too!). Organizations like the American College of Lifestyle Medicine have also amassed a large collection of educational resources – all free for practitioners to use with their patients.
Keep the conversation going. Throughout the patient’s journey, their needs will change. Listening (and responding) to their feedback is critical in their success – and the ability to help them put more vegetables on their plate with every meal!
Resources to help you get started
Walk with a Doc Program
Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute
Dr. Michael Klaper
Suzanne Duvald’Adrian is a partner and director of marketing with Enrich Creative, a marketing strategy and branding firm that helps organizations engage, educate and empower their audiences. Enrich serves clients with a focus on plant-based, lifestyle medicine, healthy food and community. She can be reached at [email protected] or (314) 553.9500.