Unhealthy Habits – Doctors & Other Care Professionals Help Break Them

Healthy behaviors – does your senior loved ones’ doctor have a discussion about them during appointments? Do you have those discussions with your doctor?

Most physicians have limited time for each patient who comes in for a visit and often spends that time assessing physical signs and talking about prescription drugs. Does the medicine need to be refilled, is the dosage correct or need an adjustment, is a substitute needed or are there any unusual side effects that should be reviewed? This focus on medications takes time. Finally, they want to be sure there are no new issues that are troubling your senior.

That doesn’t leave much time for a chitchat, even about other matters important to health.

A new American Heart Association policy statement has encouraged physicians to implement a new strategy to add to their repertoire. They suggest doctors work with their patients in order to achieve a 20% improvement in cardiovascular health for all Americans as well as a 20% reduction in cardiovascular deaths and stroke by 2020.

Areas of Focus for Doctors – The Five A’s

These are the areas where doctors are being encouraged to focus in their time with patients to get them to make concrete steps that improve heart health.

  1. Assess  a person’s risk behaviors for heart disease
  2. Advise change such as weight loss or exercise
  3. Agree on an action plan
  4. Assist with treatment
  5. Arrange for follow-up care

Is your senior’s doctor beginning to go through these points during an appointment? Remember, it doesn’t have to be the doctor that initiates the discussion.

Unhealthy Habits & Health Risks to Squelch

The real targets are those habits and conditions that present a real risk to heart health, including:

  • Smoking
  • Poor food choices
  • Overweight
  • Physical inactivity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

The American Heart Association suggests that doctors can’t do this alone and need to refer their patients to other allied health professionals who can help people create a plan for healthy changes and maintain it to succeed. Dietitians and even psychologists are key referral sources to help everyone make healthy behavior changes.

Health insurance companies can also be major players in making these goals a reality. They will need to broaden their policies to cover aspects of care from other allied health professionals, such as dietitians, so that everyone can access them to learn how to make healthy changes in their lifestyle. These changes are not easy and won’t happen overnight, so ongoing support is required and insurance companies will need to change to make this available to consumers.

Insurance Coverage Key in Care

As a dietitian I applaud this initiative because I know it can make a difference in the health of many people. While working in a wellness setting, I have seen firsthand that insurance does not adequately cover the services of a dietitian to help old and young learn to make healthful food choices and lifestyle adjustments to reduce their health burden not to mention achieve a 20% reduction in stroke, death and improvement in cardiovascular disease. In addition to a dietitian,  a specialist in behavior modification strategies would help some people stop smoking and break habits to improve their health and should be considered a part of the primary health care team.

Why is coverage by insurance companies important? Many people can’t afford or simply won’t pursue care that isn’t covered by their insurance policies. Why would insurance companies do it? Improving the health of those covered by their policies is in their long term economic interest because it will reduce future care expenses to treat illnesses that can be prevented as well as better managing current chronic diseases.

We hope that in the near future all doctors begin to have conversations with our seniors and ourselves about health risks and behaviors to improve our health. If they don’t, we can ask them!