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New Evidence Continues to Build the Field of Positive Health

Apr 17, 2012, 4:10 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

Paul Tarini Paul Tarini

Today, the Psychological Bulletin published research by Julia K. Boehm and Laura Kubzansky from the Harvard School of Public Health suggesting that positive psychological well-being – such as life purpose, positive emotion, life satisfaction, happiness and optimism – can help protect against and slow the progression of heart disease.

Prior research in this area has focused on how risk factors like anxiety and depression are associated with cardiovascular disease. But this study is the first of its kind to consider how a health asset –psychological well-being – plays a role in heart health.

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Congratulations to the Winners of Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders!

Apr 16, 2012, 4:40 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Today at the World Health Care Congress, RWJF Assistant Vice President, Research and Evaluation, Brian Quinn announced the winners of the Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders competition, supported by Pioneer and Ashoka ChangemakersInnovations for Health looked to the international health community for forward-facing, transformative ideas with the potential to change health and medicine here in the United States.

We wanted to find cutting-edge solutions from anywhere in the world that have the potential to be applied in other countries to improve health and health care. While the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is devoted to improving the health and health care of Americans, this competition arises from what we call our “Flat World” work. That is the name we’ve given to our efforts that look around the world for innovations that could be used to solve the health and health care challenges we’re facing here in the United States.

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Eight Innovative Ideas to Influence Health Behavior

Apr 4, 2012, 11:30 AM, Posted by Lori Melichar

Lori A. Melichar Lori Melichar

The majority of my work in the Department of Research and Evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been predicated on the long-held assumption that if you show people convincingly that doing one thing will create the outcome they desire, you can inspire behavior change. The problem is that when it comes to health, we consistently observe individuals acting in ways guaranteed to produce poor outcomes.

The observation of seemingly “irrational” behavior by economists, psychologists and others led to the development of the field of behavioral economics, which has, in recent years, produced insight to explain some of the perplexing health behaviors we observe in a way that the classical economic theories I learned in graduate school cannot. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation believes these emerging insights have breakthrough potential to help people make better choices for their health. That’s why I’m excited to announce that the Pioneer Portfolio and Donaghue Foundation are now supporting a group of innovative researchers who are testing simple interventions that may have widespread impact on complex problems.

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Positive Deviance Research Continues to Impact Health Care System

Mar 23, 2012, 9:53 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

We are proud to see that an earlier grant supporting research into how positive deviance can be applied to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) prevention in hospitals continues to influence the way health care systems approach and solve challenges.

An article in last week’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report profiles the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, which participated in the CDC Hemodialysis BSI Prevention Collaborative to reduce bloodstream infections (BSIs). The medical center implemented the positive deviance method, identifying individuals within an organization who have overcome seemingly intractable problems and spreading their solutions throughout, to engage staff members in BSI prevention interventions. For example, a nurse developed a mnemonic device to meet the hand hygiene compliance that she then shared with other nurses. The program found that collaborative interventions and the use of positive deviance were associated with significant reduction in BSIs. 

Curt Lindberg, project director on a 2006 Pioneer grant to Plexus Institute to study the effect of using positive deviance to prevent hospital-acquired infections, recently served as a positive deviance coach at AtlanticCare. In his earlier research, Lindberg and other investigators developed a pilot program at six hospitals to control and reduce the rate of MRSA, one of the most virulent hospital-acquired infections in the United States. The study showed that MRSA infections rates declined by 73 percent in four of the six pilot units.

Read more about the results of the grant and learn about Pioneer’s work researching the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Life Purpose May Help Reduce Heart Attack Risk

Mar 21, 2012, 10:29 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Evidence continues to emerge that our psyche influences heart health.

In a new study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, researchers working under a Pioneer Portfolio grant found that having a sense of purpose in life may help protect older adults with coronary heart disease from heart attacks. The article, “Purpose in Life and Reduced Risk of Myocardial Infarction among Older U.S. Adults with Coronary Heart Disease: A Two-year Follow-up,” comes from researchers at the University of Michigan and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 older adults with coronary heart disease and followed up after two years to investigate the association between the occurrence of a heart attack and the degree to which participants had a sense of purpose in their lives, which is typically conceptualized as a person’s sense of directedness and meaning. The study found a significantly reduced risk of heart attack among participants who reported a higher sense of meaning, regardless of socio-demographic differences. Each unit increase in purpose was associated with a 27 percent reduction in the likelihood of a myocardial infarction.

This finding is notable because adults with coronary heart disease, which is the leading cause of death among Americans, are five to seven times more likely to experience a heart attack. Most research focuses on preventive and risk factors contributing to coronary heart disease, and not on resilience factors that help promote health and longevity. The study flows from our work in Positive Health, an emerging concept that explores whether people have health assets that can be strengthened and lead to a healthier life. In contrast, traditional medicine focuses on health risk factors for disease and treatment if it occurs.

In addition to life purpose, the study investigated the association of other positive and negative psychological factors, including optimism, positive affect, anxiety, cynical hostility, and depression with risk of experiencing a heart attack. The study found that all these factors were significantly associated with myocardial infarction rates, but the sense of meaning in one’s life exhibited a protective effect on cardiovascular health above and beyond the presence of these other factors.

Researchers also noted that when people have a strong feeling of meaning in their lives, their will to live may encourage heart health-promoting behaviors, such as exercising, healthy eating, adhering to medical advice, and abstaining from excessive alcohol consumption or smoking.  

Learn more about our work in Positive Health.