New program offers fit-for-purpose preventive care

Morgan Liotta

14/11/2023 4:02:09 PM

The Chair of Healthy Habits says it is a ‘critical tool’ that can support behaviour change and strengthen the therapeutic relationship.

GP checking patient's heart
Healthy Habits helps to strengthen the therapeutic relationship by enabling shared decision making of patients’ goals and progress.

Of the almost nine in 10 Australians who visit a GP each year as part of maintaining and improving their health and wellbeing, most will have a discussion around lifestyle, such as physical activity and nutrition.
To help inform these conversations, the RACGP has partnered with the Department of Health and Aged Care to develop Healthy Habits, which aims to support GPs and other healthcare providers who work with patients wanting to make positive lifestyle changes.
Using an evidence-based approach, the free digital health program is designed to drive patient participation levels and improve and monitor outcomes in achieving a healthy lifestyle through increased physical activity, better nutrition, and a new resource on sleep health.
Professor Mark Harris is Chair of the Healthy Habits Expert Advisory Working Group. He told newsGP the program is ‘a critical tool’ to support preventive care.
‘Supporting patients to change their diet and physical activity is difficult and can be time consuming, and time is in short supply for many GPs,’ he said. 
‘Healthy Habits is designed to fit with the way GPs work today … [and] will help GPs, practice nurses and other healthcare professionals to work better and more efficiently with patients to achieve their diet and physical activity goals – and now their sleep goals too.
‘This in turn is a key to preventing and managing many chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and at critical life stages. 
‘It does this by supporting patients outside what are already busy time-limited consultations.’
Healthy Habits can be used as part of a chronic disease management plan, allowing patients to record their nutrition, sleep and physical activity goals via a mobile app.
GPs can then monitor patient progress, discuss challenges and provide ongoing encouragement via a linked clinician dashboard which details what progress the patient is making in achieving their goals.
Professor Harris highlights the program can also be used as part of Medicare-funded health checks and chronic disease management plans. 
‘Diet and physical activity are part of the treatment of chronic conditions and Healthy Habits can be used alongside referral to other allied health professionals, such as dietitians,’ he said.   
‘It is also ideal for patients who enrol with practices as part of MyMedicare.’
Importantly, Professor Harris, who co-wrote many of the RACGP’s preventive clinical guidelines including the SNAP guide, Red Book, Green Book, and diabetes management handbook, said the program strengthens the GP–patient relationship by enabling ongoing conversations about daily habits that impact physical and mental wellbeing.
‘Healthy Habits provides support to patients after they have left the consultation,’ he said.
‘GPs can not only monitor but also send text messages to patients to support them in achieving their goals. When they return for a consultation, the GP and patient can review their progress together and decide on new goals and ways to achieve them.’
And while there are already ‘many’ lifestyle and behavioural change apps available to people, Professor Harris says Healthy Habits is different because it is designed for patients with or at risk of chronic disease. 
‘It is also designed to link back to the practice so that our patients’ behaviour change can be reinforced during and between consultations,’ he said.
‘It’s not time consuming to set up and use with patients, and it can really make a difference.’
The Healthy Habits campaign encourages practices to register as a Healthy Habits provider and integrate the program into their clinical workflow.
More information about the Healthy Habits program, including a resource hub and FAQs page is available on the RACGP website.
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behaviour change chronic disease management GP–patient relationship Healthy Habits lifestyle preventive health

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