As health-care providers, best practice would have us become professional educators. In acute-care settings, the priority in patient/caregiver education is often reactive, focused on disease processes and the steps needed to restore health. Proactive disease prevention and health-promoting patient education is a hallmark in the venue of primary-care providers. The opportunity for proactive patient education is present with every patient encounter.

Health promotion and the prevention of chronic disease are topics at the forefront of national
 discussions on health care. But are we doing enough to promote health? Are we engaging
 individuals in a way that makes them want the outcome of compliance with evidence-based guidelines for a healthful lifestyle? We need to promote a new culture — a culture that values health and values an improved quality of life. 

We know we are excellent educators, but we need to develop sales tactics to engage the customer to not only want our product — health — but also to be willing to put forth some effort and sacrifice to achieve it. Do people know that physical exercise is a form of primary prevention? 

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The health-promotion movement would benefit from dynamic marketing strategies. It is difficult to engage patients in active behavioral and lifestyle changes when the effects of bad choices and loss of health are distant and often hard to envision until they are upon us; for example, the instant gratification of poor food choices vs. the comorbidities associated with obesity in the long-term. 

Motivational patient education must come from each health-care provider, selling personal health responsibility to patients. Every intervention we promote, including vaccines, safety, lifestyle habits, screenings and weight management, influences health and quality of life. Each encounter should include time spent identifying the patient’s needs, his or her motivations for making a healthful change, and his or her personal goals. Can we engage the patient’s commitment to ensure health or pursue improved health? 

As practitioners, we need to provide information that helps patients understand the modifiable risks to their health, including the ramifications of allowing risk factors to go unchecked on long-term health and quality of life. Our patients need to be aware of the consequences of poor choices and have to want to maintain or restore their health as much as we want it for them. We need to foster in them a sense of responsibility for achieving and maintaining health and encourage their confidence to make the lifestyle changes needed to succeed. 

We are empowering patients when we invite them to play an active role in their own health through better understanding of how the choices they make today affect their long-term quality of life. Proactive health promotion and disease-prevention education in the pediatric setting has the potential to influence an entire generation of adults to value health and to take personal responsibility for maintaining it. 

Focusing patient education on evidence-based guidelines ensures that we are consistent in our message. Also, encourage patients to consult such valid websites as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. These resources are available to the public and provide evidence-based practice guidelines for health promotion, disease prevention and disease management.

Catherine A. Yorio, MSN, FNP, CCRN, practices in the University of Pittsburgh  Medical Center (UPMC) Health System in Pittsburgh, Penn.