Years ago, the gold standard of patient education were pamphlets (often produced by pharmaceutical companies) which doctors could provide to their patients. While this approach kept many healthcare providers from having to navigate through difficult and uncomfortable discussions, it limited patients’ education and awareness of their circumstances and did little to foster engagement.
In the era of the Internet and sites like WebMD, patients today expect instant access to the best information and education concerning their health and wellness whenever and wherever they want. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 62% of smartphone owners have used their phone in the past year to look up information about a health condition. This immediate access is driving the way patient education is delivered. Those old-school printed materials are giving way to videos, interactive patient education tools, and even social media. You can find support groups for every type of disease or condition on Facebook and Twitter.
So what can this new era of patient education do? What can’t it do?
Can: address issues of health literacy. The average adult American reads at about a seventh- or eighth-grade level according to the Literacy Project Foundation. As a result, important organizations such as the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health recommend that materials for patient education be written at a fourth- to sixth-grade reading level. An analysis of many of the available patient education materials, including those from prominent medical societies, were found to be suffering from a lack of readability which renders them ineffective. This results in poor patient health literacy, defeating the purpose.
The study goes on to say that the use of pictures and videos may be more effective in increasing patients’ comprehension of complex information. Animations, videos, and images relating to their condition lead to better understanding than either reading complicated information or relying on a healthcare provider’s verbal explanation.
Can’t: help patients who don’t read it or can’t understand it. Patient education is predicated on the assumption that the patient has been educated - or understood - what was being presented to them. With print materials, a healthcare provider can only verify that the patient was given the materials, not that he or she could comprehend the information, or could even read it. When materials are presented through video, it’s possible for providers to track how often those videos were viewed, and surveys can be presented to determine the level of comprehension the patient has after viewing them.
Can: be accessible at any time to anyone. Often times patients leave a care provider’s office in a state of duress. Trying to remember information with accuracy becomes a challenge, and relaying that information to family or friends can be nearly impossible. By offering the patient education through an interactive source that is available online, healthcare providers can ensure patients are able to return to the materials for repeated viewing to achieve clarity and understanding. They can also show the information to family or friends to gain their input and understanding as well by simply sharing a link through email.
Can’t: be all things to all people. Not everyone processes information in the same way. Some are visual learners, some are auditory learners. Some learn by reading, others by interacting. Because of this, patient education can’t be one-size-fits-all. Providing patient education materials in a variety of forms ensures that you will accommodate each learning style. Questioning the patient about their level of understanding of the information is crucial as well. This gives you the chance to gauge the comprehension of your patients after they’ve had an opportunity to read, watch, or listen to it. In addition to making sure your patient is getting the necessary information, this affords the opportunity to build better patient engagement.
Can: affect patient outcomes and satisfaction. A recent Gallup survey found that patients who received pre-surgery patient education had better outcomes, increased satisfaction, reduced problems post-surgery, and an improved quality of life. The survey indicated that of the patients who strongly agreed that “I knew what to expect after surgery,” 72 percent were extremely satisfied with the surgery results, and only 8 percent reported problems after surgery. By contrast, of patients who did not know what to expect after surgery, only 39 percent reported being extremely satisfied with the results, and 27 percent reported problems.
The case for patient education is clear here. Quantifiable differences in results which are entirely based on the level of patient education demonstrate the value of the time and resources devoted to it.
Can’t: replace the doctor-patient relationship. Everyone is pressed for time these days, and it may be tempting in your rush to get through your patients to refer them to online resources for their patient education. But the face-to-face time you have with your patients is the most valuable component in your patient education strategy.
Patients are increasingly more comfortable with technology in their healthcare provider’s office, and they find technology to be valuable. But what they truly want is to know that they matter to you, that you will take the time to give them the information they need. They want your honesty, and they want to know that, you are listening to them and working with them as a partner in their wellness.
For more information on patient education and engagement, click here!