Change is hard. But for many patients at Heartland Health Center-Albany Park, change is necessary because their health depends on it. Keeping this in mind as a Health Educator, I work step-by-step with patients to create healthier habits and improve their quality of life.
A key component of this effort is effective goal-setting. At every session, I encourage the patient to set a new self-management goal or modify a previous one, always ensuring the goal we set is realistic, yet challenging. To make the goal more concrete, we use an Action Plan worksheet. With this tool, patients not only write out their overarching goal, but also the steps they are going to take to achieve it. This includes specifics such as how, when, where, and how often they will take action to work towards their goal. We also discuss the barriers they may face and how they plan to overcome those barriers. At the end, we always rate their conviction to complete the goal, their confidence that they can do it, and set a date for follow-up.
Take Ava* for example. I had been seeing Ava on a regular basis for a couple of months. In addition to having high blood pressure and being obese, she suffered from depression and anxiety that often affected her daily life. However, she was highly motivated to change her lifestyle, lose weight, and feel better. On her first visit, we ended up talking for over an hour about her current situation and her hopes for the future. She was particularly interested in starting to exercise regularly. Luckily, she had a prescription for a free 3-month gym membership from her provider. (Yes, you can prescribe a gym just like you can prescribe metoprolol). Yet, Ava hadn’t gone to the gym to sign up. It was the perfect time to create an action plan. We sat down and penciled her visit to the gym into her schedule, just like a dental appointment. Then we created a plan for exactly when she would go, how long she would go for, and what she would do there. Not only did this help make her goal more concrete, but also helped relieve her anxiety about entering a new environment. By our next appointment, Ava had signed up for a 3-month membership. By the next, she had visited the gym twice. Now she plans to go every day.
We don’t always reach every goal we set in life. However, by creating action plans, I hope to make it easier for my patients to achieve theirs. Already, Ava has started to feel more energized. The gym helps her to relax and relieve her anxiety. In the long-term, hopefully this regular exercise will lead to weight loss and lowered blood pressure. The combination of a concrete action plan, some motivation, and someone to hold her accountable helped Ava to take charge and start improving her quality of life. Now it’s time to tackle our next goal: meal-planning!
*Name has been changed
This blog post was written by NHC 2017-18 Chicago member Lena Law.
Lena is a Health Educator at Heartland Health Center - Albany Park and Roosevelt.