Help Them Listen and Act: The Art of Maximizing Patient Compliance

By Karin Krisher

To start, I’d like to address the word compliance. It isn’t meant to elicit thoughts of control, or a controlling relationship. That said, I use it here to imply following instructions—instructions designed to promote your patients’ health.

If you have had patients who have valued their immediate desires over your health advice, you know that ensuring compliance is nearly impossible. You generally don’t monitor your patients 24/7, and you can’t force healthy habits on anyone, especially those with stubborn wills. So, how do you encourage adherence to suggested health regimens?

We’ve come up with three solid tips. They might not always work, but they sometimes will—and every little bit counts.

Use active listening and emotional language.

As medical ethicist Arthur Frank describes, when a patient comes to your office, she is “agreeing to tell her story in medical terms.” Listen to the story, not the symptoms. Respond to the emotion, not the logic.

Instead of saying “you should quit smoking,” try something like “you definitely can do this.” Instead of “have you quit since your last visit?” offer, “how is your journey to quitting going?” Based on that type of language, your patients are more likely to view you as a partner instead of an authority figure—and therefore to take your advice. (Rebelling seems a perennial fashion.)

Provide tools.  

If you want your patient to try a certain supplement, instead of a simple recommendation, offer the concretes. Carry that formula in your office, along with a daily health planner, or a weekly pill-sorting box.

Base goals on ideals.

Every patient has personal values. What one patient may be willing to try, another patient may never even consider. Allow your patients to participate in their health to the extent that their values allow. If the patient is a health nut that also likes control, ask him or her keep you informed on advancements that could impact their regimen. If your patient prefers to take a backseat to instruction, base health goals on that—try to give him or her as many concretes as you can. If your patient is totally family focused, encourage him or her to include the whole family in goal setting and achieving.

It’s important to start implementing new ideas to maximize compliance as soon as you can, as a lack of adherence can be detrimental in many instances. Notes a team of researchers in the Journal of Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, “In some disease conditions, more than 40% of patients sustain significant risks by misunderstanding, forgetting, or ignoring healthcare advice.”

That figure is staggering. Still, we have to remember it only applies to some conditions. For supporting general wellness, compliance to supplement and exercise regimens is also important—that’s why we included tip number 2!

What do you think of our tips? Do you have any tried and true tips of your own? We’d love to hear your stories on our Facebook page!