Empower your patients to build healthier habits

By Lauren Thorn, Program Manager, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners 

Source: APNA Primary Times Summer 2023-24 (Volume 23 Issue 2)

Most people know they need to move more, eat better and sleep well to improve their health, but taking the first steps to change these behaviours can be challenging. The RACGP Healthy Habits program can help health care professionals support patients looking to create and sustain these positive lifestyle changes.  

Healthy Habits is a free digital health support program developed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) in partnership with the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care. The program strengthens the relationship between patients and primary health care professionals by enabling ongoing conversations about the daily habits that impact physical and mental wellbeing. 

Healthy Habits can be used as part of a chronic disease management plan, allowing patients to record their diet, sleep and physical activity goals via a mobile app. General practitioners and primary health care nurses can then monitor patient progress, discuss challenges and provide ongoing encouragement via a clinician dashboard.  

While there are many health and lifestyle apps on the market, most require self-motivation and few link to a primary health care professional. Healthy Habits stands out because it can be managed by the whole health care team, providing greater opportunities for patients to feel supported and motivated. It also enables clinicians to have informed conversations about challenging topics and preventive care. 

Healthy Habits is most beneficial for supporting recently diagnosed chronic disease patients 

Through pilot testing, Healthy Habits has been found to be most beneficial for supporting patients on chronic disease management plans, especially those recently diagnosed with a chronic condition.  

Tips for introducing the Healthy Habits program to patients 

Introducing lifestyle interventions with patients can be difficult. The RACGP’s Healthy Habits Patient Pathways offer guidance for initiating these sensitive conversations, assessing readiness for change and setting appropriate goals for patients to work towards in the Healthy Habits app. The pathways align with the 5As framework (Ask, Assess, Advise, Assist, Arrange) for identifying and managing behavioural risk factors in primary health care.  

If a patient is ready to start making changes to their lifestyle, here are some strategies to support establishing and maintaining new habits: 

  1. Set clear and specific goals: Work with patients to define clear, specific and achievable goals. For example, if their goal is to increase their physical activity, you might suggest walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  

  1. Start small: Emphasise the importance of starting with small, manageable steps that can be built on over time to prevent burnout and ensure sustainable progress. For example, if the goal is to increase the patient’s vegetable intake, you might suggest adding one serving of vegetables to their meals each day and increasing this each week. 

  1. Plan for obstacles: Help patients anticipate and plan for potential obstacles, ensuring they have contingencies in place. For example, if they have a walking goal, create a plan for when it's raining, such as going to a gym or shopping centre to walk instead. 

  1. Make it enjoyable: Encourage patients to find joy in their new habits by finding a walking buddy or trying new healthy recipes for their favourite meal. 

  1. Track progress: Finally, emphasise the value of tracking progress as a motivational tool and taking time to reflect on how much they have achieved, as this can be very rewarding. The Healthy Habits app can be used to record and show their progress over time. 

For additional support, visit the Healthy Habits Resource Hub on the RACGP website to find information, programs, education and CPD training to motivate patients to make positive lifestyle changes. This Hub offers a one-stop shop for high-quality, evidence-based resources that have been compiled by the RACGP to support clinicians and patients. 

To register your practice as an RACGP Healthy Habits provider, please scan the QR code or visit healthyhabits.racgp.org.au/APNA. The program is free for GPs, primary health care nurses, practice staff and patients, offering a new and flexible way to deliver health care. 

The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

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