Patient Education Pays Dividends
By Practice Growth February 20, 2020
With countless advances in technology and communication in the past quarter-century, information consumption has increased rapidly and exponentially. The way patients consume information has changed, and their access to information is virtually unlimited. The current, changing healthcare model is built on a fixed, systematic, one-size-fits-all process where a physician (or other healthcare provider) assesses a patient’s condition and sets out a treatment plan. With more knowledge than ever, patients recognize their role in improving and maintaining their health. The current model isn’t consistent with the levels of engagement and autonomy that patients have grown accustomed to, and a transformation is in progress. This evolving system is marked by a range of improvements over the previous model:
The Right to Make Informed Decisions
First and foremost, every patient (or their healthcare proxy, where applicable) is entitled to make informed decisions about their care. Your role as a healthcare provider is to provide all the information necessary to help a patient make the decision that’s right for them.
Research shows that patients who are well-informed are more likely to adhere to their treatment plan. Patients who understand their condition are better able to understand the importance of treatment. If they’re aware of potential side-effects (and how long they’ll last), patients are more likely to persist through a temporary inconvenience and continue with treatment.
When a patient is provided with all the information they need upfront, there are less unnecessary follow-up appointments, repetitive questions, and avoidable post-appointment phone or email inquiries. Healthcare is a demanding field, and providing answers to questions before they’re asked is an excellent strategy for maximizing productivity and improving flow.
Patients who are well-educated about their condition and treatment are more confident in their care. With minimal effort, you can improve your patients’ perceptions of their care team - by making them part of that team.
A New Perspective
The patient can be a great asset. No one else knows more about what they’ve been through, what they’re feeling, and what they want to achieve. Patients may hesitate to share information when they’re not sure if it’s relevant. An educated patient may be your best resource for making connections that may be missed otherwise.
Knowledge is more accessible right now than it’s ever been. Unfortunately, with loads of information comes loads of misinformation. When you educate your patients, you’re ensuring they acquire information from a legitimate source before they have the opportunity to acquire misinformation from the web.
Patient education can take many forms. Consider implementing some of the following practices and tools to keep your patients informed:
Studies on patients’ recall of information provided during consultations have yielded mixed results, but there’s no doubt that patients will begin to form their opinions of your practice at their first appointment. Don’t overload your patients with information at their initial consultation, but ensure they leave with more answers, not more questions than they came with. Patient education materials, including handouts and brochures, can be a great tool. Emailed information is preferable, as it’s more environmentally friendly, but keep hard copies on-hand for patients who aren’t comfortable with digital communication.
There’s a lot to be said for practice-branded materials, like videos and articles that can be posted on your practice’s website and shared on social media. The benefits of practice-branded materials are two-fold: firstly, you’re providing people with access to accurate information from a reliable source. Secondly, anything that’s branded and can be shared on social media is free marketing for your practice. Any printed resource that leaves your practice should feature your practice logo, address, website, and phone and fax numbers.
Patient portals are secure centers where patients can view their medical records, diagnostic test results, and care recommendations. Patient portals make patients accountable for their health, and keep them engaged between appointments. The transparency associated with being able to access their medical records provides a sense of security and can help patients feel more confident that they’re receiving quality care. This leads to more patient satisfaction and more referrals.
Spending extra time and producing extra resources to educate your patients may seem counterproductive, but when you go the extra mile to educate your patients, the benefits are multifold. Effective patient education shows your patients that you’re committed to transparency and excellence, and that you value their involvement. The practices that find balance – those that devote time and resources to delivering an exceptional patient education experience without sacrificing practice efficiency – are the practices that will succeed in this challenging healthcare environment.
1) Woods S, et al. Patient Experiences With Full Electronic Access to Health Records and Clinical Notes Through the My HealtheVet Personal Health Record Pilot: Qualitative Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research 2013; 15(3): e65.
2) Kessels R. Patients' memory for medical information. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2003; 96(5): 219–222.
3) Heath S. (2016). How Patient Health Data Access Drives Patient Engagement. Retrieved from https://patientengagementhit.com/features/how-patient-health-data-access-drives-patient-engagement
4) World Health Organization (2016). Patient Engagement: Technical Series on Safer Primary Care. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/252269/9789241511629-eng.pdf;jsessionid=D5AF56813E0F4B01CC530B4D840585ED?sequence=1