• Nadia Santana

Patient Interaction tips for Plant-Based Health Care Providers

Updated: Oct 12, 2019

Are you a plant-based practitioner? Check out this article below for some tips on how to speak with your patients about healthy dietary changes.

As a practicing family nurse practitioner, I often counsel my patients on a healthy diet and lifestyle. Regardless of the complaint that they present with, the conversation often digresses to their chronic medical problems, even if they are at the clinic for an acute sick visit. As a plant-based healthcare provider, I continuously advocate plant-based eating for all of my patients. I know just how beneficial veganism is for the body, and love sharing with my patients how much their health could improve by simply changing their diet.

Nonetheless, I am also keenly aware of the many challenges that discussing plant-based eating can pose. From resistance to apathy, how can we as healthcare providers best educate and empower our patients to adopt a plant-based lifestyle in order to improve their health?

There is a lot of literature on motivational-interviewing on the internet that you are able to reference as well.  However, I’d like to share a few of the things that I’ve learned while educating my patients on a plant-based diet. Below I’ve outlined a list of 10 tips that will benefit healthcare providers when discussing plant-based eating with their patients.

  1. Know your patient’s agenda and motivational factors. By getting clear on what motivates your patient and what their agenda is, you are better able to tailor the visit and your education accordingly. I’ve made this error plenty of times by assuming the patient had the same goals in their healthcare that I did.  It took me a while to realize that I have to work with my patient’s agenda, not what I think is best for them.

  2. Use scientific evidence to back up what you’re saying about a plant-based diet. I often use information from studies, books, or documentaries as references to promote the benefits of plant-based eating with my patients. They are oftentimes astounded by how bad the food they’ve been consuming for years is for their body.

  3. Respect their wishes to not go plant-based. If your patient is resistant to what you have to say, it’s best to leave the subject alone for the time being.  If you see them on a regular basis you can approach the subject again at subsequent office visits.

  4. Leave your personal beliefs out of it. Regardless of why you became a vegan, your job is to promote the health benefits of veganism.  Instead of discussing additional reasons to go vegan, such as animal rights and environmental degradation, keep your subject on health. If you get the feeling your patient would be interested in knowing about these issues, feel free to share. If not, keep the conversation focused on their health.

  5. Use patient cases as a way to relate the benefits of plant-based eating. I’ll often use success stories about other patients with a similar health issue as a way to motivate the patient adopt a plant-based diet. By relating stories of other patients that I’ve treated with a plant-based diet, the patient is often more interested in learning more about treating their health condition with diet.

  6. Share your personal experiences with veganism. I think this is incredibly important as you are able to relate to what the patient is experiencing if they do decide to go plant-based. For example, I often get the complaint that the patient won’t be able to give up cheese. I share my personal experience with this challenge by letting them know it took me a good two years to get off  cheese. Being real not only allows for more patient trust, but they are able to see that they are not the only one going through a certain challenge.

  7. Support them. When a patient decides to go plant-based I often support them in two specific ways. First, I support them with plant-based resource such as documentaries, literature, vegan food suggestions and information about reading food labels. Second, I support them psychosocially. Patients often have little family support and their family may be totally against their new dietary regimen. Hence, I become their support system and cheerleader. I encourage them and congratulate them on their progress and also provide them with online community group resources as an additional support system.

  8. Continue to check in with them. This goes hand in hand with tip #7. It’s important especially at the beginning of their transition to a plant-based diet that you check in with your patient regularly. This will help them to feel supported as well as to answer any health-related questions they might have.

  9. Show them their results. If a patient has adopted a plant-based diet I love to compare before and after objective results. This includes weight loss, BMI, blood pressure as well as lab results. It’s also extremely satisfying to be able to take them off medication for chronic health conditions as they no longer need it. When your patient can see these objective results, it often motivates and reinforces them to continue on their plant-based journey.

  10. Have fun! As a healthcare provider, I understand the stresses of taking care of patients, oftentimes very sick ones. I encourage you to also have fun with discussing veganism with your patients. Laugh at your mistakes, enjoy their successes and don’t take yourself too seriously.

As a plant-based healthcare provider I can personally attest to the challenges of changing the eating habits of my patients. However, I encourage you to persevere even if you don’t feel like you’re making a change. The patients you do reach and who do change their diet often have amazing stories to share about how a vegan diet changed their life. Remember, you are improving the lives of others, one plant-based meal at a time.

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