Patients Helping Doctors: An Educated Patient Improves Healthcare

June 28, 2017   Jacob Levenson

Published in The Huffington Post, June 28, 2017. View the Article Here

In the shift to a healthcare environment utilizing a chronic-care model, there is an increasing emphasis on patient education. That is, clinicians and healthcare providers focusing on ensuring patients understand their own personal health, can actively monitor their health, and can assist providers in early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of their ailments.

Patient Education Overview

The importance of educating a patient should be a no-brainer. Having more knowledge about their health, their symptoms, and the ongoing treatment of their illnesses increases their overall health and the likelihood of treatment success. The end-goal is to have patients take a more informed and active role in healthcare related decisions. The shift in focus to value-based care and the providers increased involvement in a patient’s well-being through the entire continuum of care, one that stretches far beyond the confines of the doctor’s office, is driving the increased need for quality patient education.

It is a provider’s responsibility to provide quality patient education. The spectrum of patient education falls somewhere between two primary categories:

  • Clinical Patient Education: teaching and learning provided to patients in a clinical setting.
  • Health Education: similar to clinical patient education, involving wellness, prevention, and health promotion broadly. The goal is to change health behaviors across entire populations.

Whether you employ Clinical Patient Education or Health Education, the treatment shifts to a Patient-Centered Care Model. Professionals who employ this type of model understand patients have a unique understanding, expertise, and investment regarding their own health. This is not only in the short term, but a continued involvement and decision making in their long-term health.

In the education of a patient, one creates a healthcare environment where the patient shares the responsibilities with clinicians. This decentralization of responsibility increases the accountability of the individuals involved with the patient’s health (including the patient). It also increases the accuracy of the patient’s diagnosis and treatment. In this methodology, providers take on the role of not only educators, but also a part of the patient’s support group. Additionally, a Patient-Centered Care Model promotes a lifestyle where illness is less likely altogether. The more a patient knows about their own healthcare and the significance of the risk of poor health decisions the more likely they are to be proactive about their own health. This risk reduction is an integral aspect of patient education.

Patients and the Internet

The internet is both a boon and a bane to the success of patient education. Social marketing and new technologies are rapidly changing how we can interact with patients. The technologies that provider’s have at their fingertips to assist in the diagnosis, interaction, and treatment of patients is nearly endless:

  • Email
  • Twitter
  • blogs
  • wikis
  • RSS feeds
  • podcasts
  • webinars
  • YouTube

Not only do providers utilize technology to their advantage in patient diagnosis and treatment, but patients have a plethora of technology tools at their fingertips they often rely on for information and, more often than not, misinformation. It’s becoming increasingly more prevalent in the age of the internet that self-diagnosis from unreliable websites occurs resulting in harm to patients.

It’s crucial in this information age that doctors continue to be a trusted source of expert information. There are multiple points of contact with a patient that can be leveraged and used for educational purposes. Provider’s can introduce patient education strategies everywhere from reception, examination rooms, and on practice websites. By expanding the opportunities for education outside of the examination room, the entire office becomes responsible for and involved in the effort.

It’s important to remember patient education is not just information-sharing. Patient education is also making sure patients understand their illness and are engaged in the recovery process.

A Case-Study in Patient Education

In theory, patient education sounds like a good idea — and that’s because it is and it works. Take a look at this study conducted at Harvard wherein patients who were to receive opioid prescriptions for pain relief were given ample education about the risks of prescription painkiller addiction. The education focused on the dangers of saving prescription painkillers for personal use and sharing those painkillers with families. Surveys were conducted via telephone with patients who received prescription painkillers and the results of those surveys concluded that patients who reported they discussed the risks of addiction with their clinician when initially prescribed were less likely to save and later misuse them.

It is important to note that comprehensive patient education is not a panacea for preventing opioid addiction, but it does demonstrate the potential value of patient education as one method in stemming an an epidemic currently taking far too many lives.

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