Would you be more inclined to climb stairs if every step played a musical note, or lie in the shade on a beach if it meant access to free WIFI? healthier behavior. Presentations were made by: Dr. Christina Curtis, Senior Behavior Change Consultant and Lecturer at the UCL Behavior Change Centre, UK; prof. Agnès Buzyn, Executive Director of the WHO Academy, France; Isabelle Kumar, former Euronews anchor, carer, disability rights activist, president of Autisme, Ambition, Avenir, France; Koen Kas, health futurist, researcher, author, founding CEO of Healthskouts, Belgium; Juhana Vartiainen, Mayor of Helsinki, Finland
Cus, Founding CEO of Healthskouts, provided examples of creative approaches to behavior change in the session “Behavior Change: How far can nations go?” in European conference HIMS22 June 15th.
“Can countries create a health environment where health is a must?” Cas asked. “I don’t have to think—he thinks for me because he’s so intertwined.
He gave an example of a citizen-centric dating platform. Wewhich is about to be launched in Flanders in Belgium to give patients control over their health data.
“If we want the population to be healthy, we must recognize that health is a super-holistic thing,” Kas told delegates. “Health is made up of several factors: my genome, my environment, my lifestyle, and the social determinants of health. The two most determining factors that will determine how old you are are your parents’ age when they die and your zip code.”
Referring to soccer player Christian Erickson, who suffered a cardiac arrest at the 2020 European Championships, Kas said it was “absolutely crazy” that this could happen at a time when we have the technology to prevent it.
“We can predict, based on genomic profiles, who will experience this type of cardiac arrest, so why aren’t countries providing it?” Cas asked. “I think it becomes ethically unacceptable not to know this, because we can just implant a small defibrillator and if my heart stops beating, it will turn on.”
According to Cus, the best way for health systems to motivate citizens to change their behavior is through innovation that generates a sense of excitement.
“Don’t worry about the technology per se, don’t worry about what to implement first,” Kas concluded. “To achieve the best results, we must start by thinking about how to please the citizens, patients or customers, and then find the technology to do it.”
For innovation to be effective, it is also important that healthcare professionals change their behavior. Professor Agnès Buzyn is the Executive Director of the WHO Academy, a state-of-the-art learning center dedicated to driving innovation in adult learning for global health. The center, due to open in 2024 in France, will provide digital health training for medical professionals on topics such as cybersecurity and ethics.
“We can educate healthcare professionals on the use of these digital health tools to help them tailor their practice and give them incentives in their practice,” said Professor Buzyn. “It depends on the trust of citizens and professionals in digital health tools. This means that the government must create a framework to increase the confidence of citizens.”
Buzin said that France has created two main digital health tools to help implement healthcare and improve the health of the population. Online platform Mont Espace Santewas launched earlier this year, allowing all French citizens to access and manage their health data.
“This is a very useful thing for people,” Buzin added. “We have an ethical framework that has been developed with citizens.”
In addition, France has launched a health data center that collects health information from hospitals and the insurance system so that it can be used for health research, e-health and public health improvement.
Winning public trust
Dr. Christina Curtis, Senior Behavior Change Consultant and Lecturer at UCL’s Center for Behavior Change, said patients should be involved in the design of medical interventions from the very beginning.
“It’s about understanding from the user’s point of view what is important to them and then getting feedback from them to make sure the patient is at the center of your intervention,” she said. “In order to change behavior, we need to understand what are the driving forces behind that behavior. It’s not enough to just educate people or diagnose someone with something like prediabetes.”
When it comes to how much countries can influence citizens’ behavior without going too far into individual freedoms, Dr. Curtis said it’s important to strike a balance.
“There must be a balance between environmental change or behavioral incentives such as healthcare architecture, along with empowering people to make informed choices about their behavior and supporting them to change their behavior at multiple levels, be it at the government level, at the community level or at the educational level,” she concluded.
At the local level, Helsinki Mayor Juhana Vartiainen said it was important for community leaders to stimulate behavior change in collaboration with other stakeholders.
“This is something we are acutely aware of. We can change people’s behavior,” Vartiainen said.
Helsinki is part of the WHO Healthy Cities Network, which aims to promote health and well-being through strategies such as healthy school lunches and safe cycling paths.
“Here in Helsinki we want to improve the use of data,” Vartiainen said. “We’re thinking about proactively using data to notify people who might be suspicious under certain conditions.”