Did you know that 1 out of 2 patients walks out of their doctor’s office without knowing what they’re supposed to do after? Medical jargon, an overload of information, and other factors result in patients not understanding or following their doctor’s instructions. The impact on their health and healthcare system is significant – and not in a good way.
To avert these and other negative outcomes, patient education is becoming part of the available health services, aiming to improve patient care quality and enhance self-care during and after an illness.
In this post, we’ll explain what patient education is and how it coincides with, but differs from health literacy. We’ll also see the benefits for patients and the healthcare system, along with the official practice guidelines and tips for effective patient education. Lastly, we’ll review resources and tools you can use for better results.
What is Patient Education?
Patient education is the process of providing patients with information relevant to their condition, such as symptoms and warning signs, available treatment plans, expected outcomes and side effects, prevention guidelines, etc.
Patient education starts as soon as the patient is diagnosed or as early as possible. It helps patients better understand their condition and available options in terms of treatment. Although there are different types, patient education aims to increase patient engagement and involvement to improve the patient’s physical and mental health.
Hospital discharge and chronic disease are two common cases where patient education is required. Patients that have undergone certain procedures receive discharge patient education with instructions about how to take their medications, handle special equipment, signs of common side effects and treatment, etc.
To patients with chronic illness, the health educator suggests lifestyle changes that will help them keep their illness under control, handle emergencies and side effects from drugs, and maintain a high standard of living.
Healthcare education is usually provided by trained healthcare professionals, like primary care physicians, specialist doctors, nurses, and professional health educators.
Very often, patient education and health literacy are used interchangeably. Although there is common ground between the two terms, they are fundamentally different, as health literacy doesn’t always coincide with suffering a disease and is often seen as a preventative process.
CDC defines personal health literacy as “the degree to which individuals can find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.” Besides safeguarding personal health, health literacy can also prevent misinformation from spreading and endangering public health and high-risk groups.
The Benefits and Importance of Patient Education
We have already mentioned a couple of benefits stemming from patient education. Now let’s see these and additional benefits in detail to understand why more and more healthcare providers are adding it to their services.
Most people finding themselves in uncharted waters, especially regarding a health problem, are bound to feel powerless and at a loss. Patient education helps them understand their condition, available treatments, and what they entail, including possible side effects.
When health educators present patients with available options they can understand, patients feel confident in participating in the decision-making process. Instead of blindly following their doctor’s orders without understanding what’s happening or what to expect next, they feel they have some control of the situation – to the extent that’s possible.
2Better Health Outcomes
As we mentioned before, patient education has a positive impact on patient engagement. Apart from being more knowledgeable, patients who receive health education are also more cooperative and well-disposed because they trust their doctors and the treatment they’re receiving. Therefore, they’re more likely to follow their doctor’s instructions, take their medication correctly, and successfully recover or maintain a good health status in the long run.
3Lower Readmission Rates
Similar to the point discussed above, when patients can take proper care of themselves, they are less likely to have complications and need to return to the hospital or visit their doctors more often than initially planned. This can be achieved with proper discharge patient education focusing on practical instructions and general health advice.
4Better Quality of Life for Patients With Chronic Diseases
Health education is tremendously important for people with medical conditions like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. Chronic disease management takes place outside of medical facilities as the patient’s needs are recurring, and often the patient needs to make permanent lifestyle changes.
Patient education improves self-management and helps patients to maintain physical and mental wellness. The latter is an essential factor in healing and overall life quality, with patients with chronic illnesses being at higher risk of developing mental health problems like depression.
5Better Healthcare Experience and Satisfaction
Higher patient satisfaction is another benefit of healthcare education. And it’s no wonder why being properly informed, patients feel more reassured and optimistic about their future and have a say in critical decisions. Instead of going through the healthcare experience feeling flustered and powerless, they play an active role and are involved in every part of the process.
6Lower Healthcare System Costs
When patients don’t follow their treatment plan as they should, they don’t heal as expected or even get worse and need to be readmitted to the hospital. This increases the cost and burdens the healthcare system by reducing capacity. On top of that, when not treated properly, many health conditions can cause secondary illnesses, further aggravating the situation.
Patient Education Practice Guidelines for Healthcare Professionals
The Patient Education Practice Guidelines for Health Care Professionals were developed by the Health Care Education Association to offer guidance to health care professionals who provide patient education.
The Guidelines are based on the four components of the patient education process (APIE):
The first step is to assess the patient’s needs. These result from their existing knowledge about their disease, their preferred learning method, any particular concerns they may have that you need to address first, and so on. To effectively assess these needs, it’s best to interview their close family as well as the patient. Some indicative questions/topics you can ask about are:
This includes what you’ll teach the patient, which learning material you’ll use, if and how often you’ll meet, etc. Involve the patient in the planning phase by asking about their preferences. For example, whether they would rather meet in the morning or the evening or prefer short or larger sessions. Be honest about the expected outcomes. To avoid information overload and overwhelming the patient, prioritize the “need to know” information and leave out the “nice to know.”
Next, it’s time for actual learning. Use the most appropriate learning strategies and tools from your initial assessment. Tweak them depending on how the patient responds. This brings us to our next and final step.
Use several methods to evaluate whether the patient benefits from the program. For example:
Remember to document everything during the teaching process and progress evaluation for the patient’s medical records.
4 Education Resources and Tools to Use
Medical professionals have different tools and resources in their hands to educate their patients. These are the most common ones:
Patient portals enable patients to access health information online, including their medical records and exam results, without calling their doctor or visiting a medical facility. Some medical professionals are also part of the OpenNotes movement, which means they share their appointment notes with their patients to increase transparency and establish trust.
Traditional learning material is instrumental in health education, as it allows patients to go over essential information at home, process it, and jot down questions they may have.
3One-to-one or Group Sessions
One-to-one training is the most effective part of the patient education program. Apart from the essential human connection, patients can ask questions, and healthcare professionals can explain, demonstrate processes and practice with the patient until they have understood the information.
On top of that, sometimes you just may not be able to find learning material in the person’s native language. So, no matter how simplified the information may be, they may still have trouble understanding it. In one-on-one meetings, it’s much easier to explain and avoid dangerous misunderstandings or leaving the patient in the dark.
If meeting in person is not possible or is very inconvenient, these meetings can also be held virtually with the help of videoconferencing software or a communication platform both parties use.
4Learning Management System
A healthcare Learning Management System (LMS) can be beneficial for healthcare providers offering patient education. More specifically, using a healthcare LMS, you can have the following:
8 Patient Education Strategies and Tips
Patient education is part of the effort for more patient-centered health care. Let’s see which strategies will enable you to empower and engage patients through an educational program.
1Start the Patient Education Program Early
The sooner you start reviewing the learning materials with the patient, the better. Patients are in a stressful situation and the first days are the worst as they try to take in what’s happening. Providing preliminary knowledge of what lies ahead will help the patient feel safer, stop them from developing worst-case scenarios and hypotheses, and relieve the fear of the unknown.
2Be Clear and Simple
Everyone should understand health information regardless of their educational level or profession. Don’t use medical terminology because, unless the patient is a healthcare employee, they won’t understand a single word – which will intimidate them further.
Ensure patient education materials are translated to the patient’s native tongue whenever possible. If not, explain everything orally to the patient before they take the material home, encouraging them to ask again if they have any questions.
3Focus on the Benefits
Some patients may be reluctant to join an educational program. They might be in denial or overwhelmed by their situation and, therefore, unwilling to learn more or even think about making lifestyle changes and developing new routines.
You might get tempted to use intimidation and “warn” uncooperative patients of what’s lying ahead if they don’t abide by the doctor’s orders. But this might have the opposite effect and make them more aggressive. Instead, focus on the benefits and how learning more about their medical condition and following their treatment will improve their well-being and mood.
4Use a Variety of Educational Resources
There are two reasons why a patient education program needs to be enriched with different learning material.
The first is that different types of resources may appeal to different patients. Some people understand and absorb information better by reading brochures, while others would rather watch a video. These are the three types of learners and how to deal with them:
The second reason is that some patients might be visually or hearing impaired or have limited motor skills. This means they have limitations and special requirements that should be catered to.
5Break Down the Information
When stressed, it’s even harder to retain information – even if it’s information that impacts our life and directly concerns us. Any resources you offer, be it video or text format, should be brief, and the same goes for your one-to-one meetings and the material you go over together.
6Involve the Family
Primary caregivers and close family should be present during the program. The patient might feel flustered or overwhelmed. Their presence will help the patient feel more comfortable, and you can rest assured that they haven’t missed any vital information. Knowing what you’ve instructed the patient to do, a family member can also ensure they follow the directions correctly and update you on their progress.
7Provide Patients With Material They Can Take Home
Always provide patient education materials they can read or watch when they’re at home, at their own pace. This will also allow them to write down any questions they have. If necessary, write down the most essential information on a separate sheet to avoid overwhelming them.
Not exactly a strategy, but empathy is essential to patient education. Despite the heavy workload and the tiredness, all healthcare professionals providing health education must get into the patients’ shoes and show empathy and patience.
As a healthcare professional, you might be accustomed to dealing with illness daily, but for many patients, it’s the first time they have found themselves in this situation. Fear and stress might even lead to patients exhibiting aggressive and negative behaviors you need to move past and deal with maintaining a positive attitude.
Patient Education is not a Luxury
The rise of patient education signals a much-needed shift in the healthcare industry. Patient satisfaction and engagement are now being added to the mix of health services, enhancing not only the physical but also the mental health of the patients.
If you have a healthcare business and want to elevate your services by offering healthcare education, we invite you to try LearnWorlds for free with a 30-day trial. Our versatile features will help you streamline the process for your educators and also offer continuous education to your patients via interactive content, automatic news updates, and support via an online community.
Androniki is a Content Writer at LearnWorlds sharing Instructional Design and marketing tips. With solid experience in B2B writing and technical translation, she is passionate about learning and spreading knowledge. She is also an aspiring yogi, a book nerd, and a talented transponster.