Five thousand health educators are meeting in Philadelphia this week to share tips for helping people with diabetes.
Diabetes educators spend their days encouraging clients to drink less soda or walk a little more. Still, the professionals asked experimental psychologist BJ Fogg of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University to help the coaches refine their approach.
Don’t underestimate the power of tiny habits, even ridiculously small changes, Fogg said.
“I’m a big fan of having them floss one tooth,” Fogg said. “One tooth doesn’t save your teeth necessarily, but every time you do that, it’s a signal to yourself. One, I’m taking care of myself. Two, I’m learning how to change my behavior.”
Baby steps offer “success momentum” to get over the inevitable setbacks, he said. It can be hard to trust the power of small changes, but Fogg said, they build confidence and ripple into other parts of life.
“Behavior change is like a lot of other skills — playing the piano, cooking, speaking a language, dancing,” Fogg said. “The more you practice the better you get. So when you really need to nail it, when you really need to change your behavior you have the skills, you have resources to do it.”
About 26 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with diabetes.
The diabetes educators who help them often have a variety of other job titles including nurse, dietitian, pharmacist or exercise physiologist.
An estimated 79 million additional people have pre-diabetes, said Charles Macfarlane, chief executive officer of the American Association of Diabetes Educators.
The growth of the chronic illness in America keeps educators in high demand.
“In 2012, we spent about $245 billion on the care of diabetes,” Macfarlane said.
Time with an educator is part of the health plan for Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes. Some other insurance plans require patients to pay extra if they want help with lifestyle changes.
“There is a much greater focus on the role the patient plays in the management of their own disease,” Macfarlane said. “Really understanding the behaviors can have an impact on improved outcomes.”
From frequent blood-glucose monitoring to insulin pumps, Macfarlane said, technology is becoming a big aid in diabetes management.
Macfarlane’s group is unveiling a smartphone app to help patients set self-care goals—from taking medication on time to reducing health risks.
The diabetes educators are in town through Saturday.