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Why face-to-face support is still crucial for prevention and treatment

Zaytun Ratansi, health facilitator at Living Well Taking Control

With the rise of large digital players in the healthcare system, the way patients are receiving treatment is ever-changing. For example, Amazon Alexa speakers are now considered a viable medium to offer patients healthcare advice. Whilst we welcome this digital transformation, we need to remind ourselves that bots and algorithms can never fully replace human connections.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to the treatment of chronic lifestyle conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, both of which require long-term lifestyle change. In that respect, traditional face-to-face contact is still crucial for ensuring patients both understand the reasons behind their diagnosis and stay on track on their journey to overall health. The management of care for people with long-term conditions should be proactive, holistic, preventative and patient-centred – can digital platforms alone fulfil this requirement?  

Reading between the lines

Face-to-face consultations allow practitioners to see and consecutively understand their patients’ progress better. A patient’s body language when describing their symptoms and how they are finding treatment can reveal so much more about their mental state. Do they nervously play with their hands when they discuss their eating habits? If so, they may be hiding some pitfalls during the process. Are you noticing less shortness of breath when they arrive at their appointment? That can be a clear sign that they are starting to embed exercise in their routine as prescribed. It can even be as simple as: are they smiling more as the treatment is progressing?

By reading patients’ everyday emotions and body language in face-to-face practice, we can see the results of lifestyle intervention and weight loss programmes right before our eyes.

Keeping it inclusive

Although everyone can be at risk of chronic diseases, not everybody is accustomed to technology. That said, we cannot create a barrier in diagnosis and treatment by constricting lifestyle intervention to digital mediums.

For older patients, whilst we are seeing greater adoption of technology from this age group, we cannot assume that all are equipped to use technology as a means to manage their health. This is particularly relevant in the UK, where reports have shown that the 66-74 age group is the most likely to be overweight or obese. This highlights that face-to-face support is increasingly needed to cater to this age group.


Zaytun Ratansi, health facilitator at Living Well Taking Control

For patients and their families from different cultural backgrounds, this kind of support can play an essential role in treating their conditions. There is occasionally resistance from family members that patients don’t need to make lifestyle changes. Learning about how to make traditional dishes which have been cooked the same way for generations, lowered in fat-content and sugar can be difficult – as families are reluctant to change long standing tastes and flavours. So, it’s important we build face-to-face programmes which consider this, and are inclusive of others.

To achieve this, sessions that allow family members, partners and wider support networks to attend can help changes in lifestyle and cuisine for these patients. By bringing families to face-to-face classes, these societal norms and values can begin to change. This has huge transformational power for communities - changing generational lifestyle issues for the better whilst recognising everyone’s backgrounds.

Whatever the age or background of patients, sessions allow space and time to cover topics in depth, with opportunities for patients to ask questions and receive a detailed answer. Treatment should be inclusive and accessed by all.

Back to the future - in combination with digital

We shouldn’t exclude digital solutions altogether. With the right balance, face-to-face support can work well with digital tools. Digital solutions have proved promising in helping people undergo lifestyle change and more can be reached with a combination of approaches. Through empowering the patient to make a choice we can widen access for patients across the UK. The NHS recognises this, and as a result has made sure that as part of the National Diabetes Prevention Programme, patients diagnosed as pre-diabetic are offered the choice to be connected to a health coach digitally or in-person.

As healthcare practitioners, we must remember what is best for the patient. Patients should be empowered to choose the right solutions for them whether that be a group class or access to the latest digital health app. Through keeping face-to-face options open we can continue to provide the world class care patients deserve.


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