Patient education is a critical part of patient care. Instructing patients on follow-up care, prevention, and how to take a proactive role in their own healthcare should be a goal of every medical provider.
Unfortunately, patient education is not always easy. Health information is complex, and patients can easily become confused. Without the proper educational resources, doctors, clinical trial professionals, pharmaceutical reps, and other health educators may find teaching patients about medical issues difficult.
To help, we have put together our top five strategies for educating patients effectively.
Our Top 5 Tips for Better Patient Education
1. Demonstrate Interest and Establish Trust
When teaching patients about medical issues, it is important first to establish trust. Show them that you are interested in more than just their physical well-being. Creating a rapport with your patients will make it easier for them to hear your medical advice later, making it less likely that they will tune out your words.
Some ways that you can demonstrate your interest in patients include:
- Ask how things are going with their work, hobby, home life, etc.
- See if they have been anywhere interesting recently or if they have upcoming travel plans.
- Find out if they have read any good books or watched any good TV shows or movies recently.
Patients who feel cared for and heard will be more receptive to education provided to them. In addition, investing a minute or two of non-medical conversation can help put patients at ease, making them open up more about any problems, medical issues or worries they might be facing. It can even give you clues about your patient’s preferred style of learning, which leads us to the next strategy.
2. Adapt to the Patient’s Learning Style
Even patients who want to learn may have difficulty doing so if the information is not presented in a way conducive to their style of learning. Barriers can include language, culture, level of formal education, and even misinformation that patient received from a family member, friend, or the internet.
Some patients will already know what kind of learner they are (visual, auditory, etc.) and might be able to tell you how they learn best. Remember: Teaching patients requires patient teaching. Taking the time to learn how your patients learn will improve patient outcomes in the long run.
3. Use Innovative and Age-Appropriate Education Materials
Patient education materials come in all forms. Newer, more innovative formats are finding their ways into the health education space, giving patients more opportunities to learn in fun and unique ways. Some of these new formats include comic books and podcasts.
Of course, you can still use the traditional tri-fold pamphlets or videos in the waiting room. These do have some value, but fresh, individualized approaches to patient education are more likely to be effective in the long run.
Pro tip: Check out Jumo Health’s collection of innovative health education resources.
4. Ask Patients to Explain Information Back to You
Far too often, patients will say that they understand what their doctor told them—even if they really don’t! The reasons why a patient may say they understand something when they don’t are numerous:
- They might be in shock or overwhelmed by a diagnosis and just want to leave.
- They might be too embarrassed to admit that they don’t really understand it.
- They might genuinely think they understand it, but realize later they forgot some important piece.
One way to prevent patients leaving before they fully grasp what you are telling them is to have them repeat the information back to you. When doing so, you can correct details they get wrong or fill in gaps, helping to reinforce the information.
If you suspect your patient is simply repeating what you said without actually understanding it, you can also ask him or her to re-word it in a way that would help a family member or friend understand the information.
5. Educate the Patient’s Family or Caretaker
Two minds—and two memories—are better than one. Inviting a family member, friend, or caretaker to join the education session will help to ensure that the medical information will be retained. This is especially important for young children or individuals who have a learning disability or special education needs.
Inviting a caregiver to join the conversation can create a feeling of support and community. This may be especially important when decision-making time comes, since then there will be at least one other person who understands the issues at hand.
Who Is Responsible for Patient Education?
Effective patient education is a shared responsibility. Healthcare professionals, administrative staff, prescription drug manufacturers, and patients themselves all have a role in understanding how to improve the patient’s health and even public health.
Office staff do much more than make appointments and file charts. As the first (and often last) point of contact for the patient, they can help promote patient safety and health by alerting patients to available materials and pointing them to other educational resources.
The word “doctor” originally came from the Latin word for “teacher.” Today, the role of educator is still important for both primary care physicians and specialists. Patients look to doctors as the experts in health care, and doctors have a duty to help their patients understand what is going on with their health.
Nurses are the front lines of medical care in many cases, and some patients may even see a nurse more often than they see their doctor. Because of their frequent contact with patients, nurses are some of the most important health educators in the medical field.
Clinical Trials Professionals
Clinical trials provide opportunities to test new treatments that will improve health outcomes in the future. Clinical trials professionals can be effective educators by explaining to patients how new drugs, devices, and medical techniques improve on previous methods.
The companies who make and distribute drugs play a critical role in helping patients and the public learn about the benefits (and risks) of their medications. In addition to the print, TV and internet ads that we all see, pharmaceutical representatives can help by providing new and innovative educational materials to patients.
Patients obviously have a vested interest in their own care, and most of them want to learn. However, many patients may not know who to trust. Misinformation runs rampant, spread by family, friends, late-night commercials, websites, and other non-medical sources. Empowering patients by helping them learn about the health issues affecting them gives them a way to participate in their own education.
Why Is Patient Education Important?
Patient education is not just a nice thing to do—it actually improves patient outcomes. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, hospitalized patients who receive individualized instruction booklets and instruction from a nurse are 30% less likely to return to the hospital within 30 days of discharge.
Patient education doesn’t just provide patients with useful information. It can have an appreciable, positive impact on their health.
About Rebecca Schelkun, MPH
Senior Director, Product Development at Jumo Health