How Medical Assistants Can Educate Patients About COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed how the world operates on more levels than one. Stores operate with an extreme sense of caution, gathering places are now under strict guidelines, and healthcare workers rely on their patients to help stop the spread, versus the other way around. Those in the medical field are encouraging everyone to follow the CDC’s safety guidelines as they search for a cure. However, after months of social distancing, people are beginning to throw caution to the wind. As the number of cases continues to grow, medical assistants are desperately trying to figure out a way to motivate their patients to practice the prevention strategies, and we may have the answer. Health coaching.

Below, we will go over what health coaching is and how to implement it, so you can successfully work with your patients on protecting themselves and those around them during this public health crisis.

What is Health Coaching? How is it used?

Health coaching is the art of using skilled, evidence-based conversation tactics to produce a positive change in a patient’s health behavior. By opening up a dialogue with your patient, you are more likely to unearth the root of their unwillingness to demonstrate desired health behaviors and work with them to develop better habits while influencing their decisions. This process is one of the more valuable tools in the healthcare industry, but it often goes unutilized due to a lack of proper training.

When it comes to COVID-19, some patients have been bombarded with misinformation, making the use of factual statistics ineffective. That is where one of the more foundational skills in health coaching comes in: motivational interviewing. Motivational interviewing is defined as “a collaborative, goal-oriented style of communication with particular attention to the language of change” by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick in their book, Motivational Interviewing: Helping People to Change. Using this technique is essential in order to spark an engaging conversation with your patient as an equal; this way, you avoid confrontational language and warnings.

An easy way to remember this is by using OARS:

Open-ended questions: Frame your questions so they cannot be answered with “yes” or “no.” Your questions should instead create a dialogue with your patient.

Affirmations: Acknowledge your patient’s positive behaviors.

Reflections: Carefully listen to everything they have to say, then verbally reflect by paraphrasing what they have said. It is also important to show a sense of empathy towards their communicated emotions.

Summaries: Finally, summarize the conversation. It will give you an understanding of your patient’s needs and confirm the patient’s understanding of their health plan.

This technique will give your patient a feeling of control and encourage them to make better health decisions and demonstrate constructive behavior.

Now more than ever, it’s crucial to build and structure a medical assistant’s health coaching abilities and skills. Doing this could lead to beneficial change, better patient relationships, and even save lives.

Need an example of how to apply this technique? Try this.

Here is an example of an effective conversation—modeled after a version from the National Healthcare Association (NHA)—between a skilled medical assistant and their patient using the OARS technique:

MA: Have you been wearing a mask when you go out in public?

Patient: No, I’m not worried about it.

MA: Can you explain why you’re not worried? (Open-Ended Question)

Patient: I’m healthy. I know what symptoms to look for and to stay home if I exhibit any.

MA: That’s great that you’re aware of the symptoms and monitoring your health. (Affirmation)

Patient: Yeah, I try my best. My health is very important to me.

MA: I’m happy to hear that. Would you like me to share some additional information with you?

Patient: Yes, please.

MA: Many people are asymptomatic carriers, meaning they can infect people without even knowing they have the virus. When those people talk and produce respiratory droplets, they could spread the illness to many people. Wearing a mask can help prevent this spread and save many people from becoming infected.

Patient: I didn’t realize that. I just thought it was spread by coughing and sneezing. I will wear a mask from now on and try to be safer until there’s a vaccine.

MA: Thank you for looking after your health and those around you! So, in addition to washing your hands and observing other precautions, you’re going to wear a mask in public? (Reflection)

Patient: That’s right!

MA: And, you’ll continue these strategies until there’s a vaccine available? (Summary)

Patient: Correct.

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