Relationships between healthcare providers, their clients, and other third parties can be fraught when there are issues with patients’ understanding of the elements of care. Patient education is critical to patient engagement and satisfaction.
Below, we’ll cover 5 of the reasons why:
- Patients’ lack of specific knowledge about their conditions and how to improve them
- Patients’ misconceptions about healthcare and the roles they and their doctor plays
- Providers’ ability to build trust in their relationships through effective patient education
- Patients’ increased confidence to seek out further healthcare education on their own
- Third parties’ ability to extend and expand educational material and engagement opportunities
First, let’s define PayrHealth terms and take a quick look at what patient education and engagement are.
Overview: What is Patient Engagement and Patient Education?
Patient education comprises a wide-ranging set of practices that help patients come to a fuller understanding of health and healthcare. These can include anything from outright lessons to reading or audio/visual patient education materials. And they can cover everything from basic concepts in fields like nutrition or psychology to detailed scientific knowledge on physiology or particular drugs.
One of the ultimate goals of patient education is patient engagement, which itself is an even broader concept covering all practices undertaken to get patients actively involved in their healthcare.
The ultimate goal of engagement, as we’ll discuss below, is patient activation.
Reason #1: Patients Often Lack Critical Health Information
Patients seeking care sometimes carry a baseline understanding of their conditions—or, at least, their symptoms. But in many cases, they don’t understand what’s ailing them. This is the single biggest factor in patient education’s importance both in general and relative to engagement.
The particular reasons patients may lack adequate health information about their conditions or the best ways to alleviate them vary widely.
Some clients lack educational history or personal experience that would have established this knowledge base. For others, cultural or language barriers may impede their understanding. And even the most well-informed may suffer from a new, unknown condition that would be nearly impossible for a non-professional to know about.
The Importance of Gauging Patients’ Understanding Of Key Facts
To account for gaps in your patients’ knowledge—regardless of their causes—you’ll need to assess their understanding at regular intervals.
Two approaches you can consider for this purpose are:
- Formal assessments, administered in-person or remotely, including educational videos with built-in quizzes or standalone multiple-choice or short-answer questions on exams
- Informal conversational cues, like asking patients to repeat back detailed instructions they’ve been given, or checking in and asking if they understand before changing topics
You should define your value proposition in healthcare by approaching your patients with a baseline respect for their intelligence, but you should not assume nor expect that they have any privileged knowledge related to health and medicine.
Reason #2: Patients Can Harbor Suspicions or Misinformation
Besides lacking critical information about their own health, patients will often bring a wealth of misinformation into their meetings and overall relationships with healthcare providers. This can be worse than patients who simply lack relevant information, as deeply-held misbeliefs about what they need can get in the way of actual health knowledge, preventing them from becoming engaged.
Teaching patients replaces poor or inaccurate information with real, potentially life-saving data. This is a key way patient education can factor into patient engagement. By dispelling all harmful notions your patients carry, you’ll set them on the right path toward participation in their care.
How to Break Through Your Patients’ Misconceptions, Respectfully
Helping your patients shed their misunderstandings and see the correct, scientifically verifiable truth about their conditions can be quite challenging. Meeting them where they are, you need to establish a baseline of respect so that they won’t feel overpowered or manipulated by you.
The key to this approach is understanding the sources of their misinformation. Recent research into the phenomenon suggests that social media is a key driver in trends of misinformation.1 In many cases, personal connections people make between their curated feeds and the pseudo-science they encounter make simply providing them with accurate data ineffective.
Instead, you’ll want to take a page out of the engagement handbook and encourage patients to do their own research in more trustworthy, verifiable channels. This also develops mutual trust.
Reason #3: Providers Can Build Patient Trust Through Education
As touched on just above, one key way to break through the most deeply held misconceptions about healthcare is by encouraging patients to do their own research. This is especially effective in these cases because patients prone to conspiratorial thinking will tend to distrust things told to them by authority figures they are trained to mistrust—an extremely dangerous disposition.
To disarm that, approach them on more equal footing.
You can downplay your own authority by emphasizing that expertise is not something one has, but something one practices. If a patient feels like they are being treated with basic human decency and respect, they’ll likely be more receptive to whatever information they receive—doubly so if they’re the ones who find it.
Pedagogical Practices for Retention of Information and Engagement
Education can be one of the best ways to build trust between you and your patients. it’s most effective in this way if you avoid a model where the provider is only the party with useful facts to give to the patient, who has nothing of their own to offer.
Instead, opt for approaches like:
- Assuming that patients bring some knowledge to the table, whether informed by their experiences living with a given condition or research they’ve undergone independently
- Earnestly valuing what patients have to say about their experience, regardless of the extent to which it fits what contemporary research says about the given condition(s)
By establishing this baseline trust and respect, you’ll validate and encourage future research.
Reason #4: Patients May Seek Out Self-Education Opportunities
Ultimately, whether you build it directly into your pedagogy or not, one of the main goals of patient education is getting patients to seek out further information beyond what you give to them directly.
As noted above, a great way to get started on that is requesting or even requiring patients to do their own research to back up, confirm, or challenge what you tell them.
Arguably the biggest (if indirect) benefits of a strong patient education program are in the long-lasting effects it can have on patients. This includes impacts beyond the scope of your relationship with them. Patients taking on the responsibility for furthering their knowledge about healthcare is one key indicator that they are not only engaged but fully activated.
Moving from Education to Engagement to Full Patient Activation
As alluded to above, patient activation is the main goal of engagement. In turn, it’s an aspirational goal of effective patient education. Per the Patient Activation Measure survey2, there are 4 levels to look out for:
- Level 1, in which patients feel that their doctors are fully “in charge” of their healthcare
- Level 2, where patients feel they could “do more” for themselves but aren’t sure of how
- Level 3, when patients start to feel like part of a personalized healthcare team, alongside doctors
- Level 4, in which patients feel fully in control of their care, as their own advocate
Education is a critical way to move patients from level 1 toward level 4. No matter where they are when you first interact with them, following the patient engagement strategies and best practices detailed above is sure to move them further along in their journey toward activation and health independence.
Reason #5: Other Stakeholders Can Get Involved in the Process
Finally, the last reason education is so important for your patient engagement is that it can—and ideally should—involve more than just the provider and patient proper.
All third parties that come into contact with you and your patients, such as payors and vendors, can be integrated into the educational framework. You can negotiate these terms into strong contracts and find patient education specialists as you expand your team.
To that end, here at PayrHealth, we’re happy to help facilitate each piece. Contact us today!
- PubMed Central. Where We Go From Here: Health Misinformation on Social Media. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7532328/
- Insignia Health. Patient Activation Measure. https://www.insigniahealth.com/products/pam-survey
- MicroMD. The Importance of Educating Patients. https://www.micromd.com/blogmd/patient-education/
- Patient Engagement HIT. Why Patient Education is Vital for Engagement, Better Outcomes. https://patientengagementhit.com/news/why-patient-education-is-vital-for-engagement-better-outcomes