All patients want their doctors to educate and guide them in matters relating to their personal health. However, a question often asked is “how much information should doctors give their patients?” It can be rather difficult to balance providing useful information for patient education in order to ensure understanding and awareness versus having to be considerate to patients’ needs and feelings regarding the said health-related information. Several healthcare professionals, such as you, have stated that it is crucial to find a suitable balance when it comes to quality patient care. You do not want to overwhelm patients with medical terminology and detailed information; however, you also do not want them to have half the information as that can have dire consequences. In order for patient education to prove valuable, it needs to be more than just instructions. You need to be able to assess your patients’ needs, preferences, strengths, and limitations so that you can help them to cope with any health-related obstacles.
Use technology to your advantage
Nowadays, technology offers a quick and effective way to get your message across to your patients. Technology has made patient education materials - such as brochures, informative articles, and charts - much more accessible. Many healthcare organizations have taken advantage of online educational resources in order to ensure that patients understand the instructions they are given and that their personal needs are met.
Explain the benefits to your patients
If you want to provide your patients with the best quality care, you need to make the effort to take the time and communicate with them. Help them understand what the benefits are to a certain medication, procedure, or treatment regime. In other words, communicate your expectations and anticipate / understand theirs. You can help put their minds at ease, avoid medical errors and wrongful diagnoses, as well as prevent self-treatment.
Do not use medical jargon
When it comes to educating your patients on medical conditions and what they entail, it can be helpful if you do not use medical jargon and complex terminology – simple is best. This is crucial because your patients need to understand the benefits and risks associated with medical conditions in order to make better-informed decisions.
Take into consideration patients’ strengths and limitations
Every patient is different and you need to consider their individual strengths and limitations – emotional, mental, and physical. For instance, if a patient is hard of hearing, having visual materials handy can be extremely useful to them. Moreover, always implement the teach-back method. Have your patients “teach back” what you have taught them so that you can determine if they have understood what you said and meant.
Determine patients’ learning styles
Patients have different learning styles and you may need to communicate similar information through various methods. For instance, some patients may learn best by watching an educational video, while others may learn best by reading an educational pamphlet. Moreover, some patients may want detailed information, while others may want just the facts. Providing education through different means can reinforce teaching and one particular method, known as the hands-on approach, is particularly effective. With the hands-on approach, the patient gets to conduct a procedure with your assistance so that they can better absorb the instructions and utilize the information.
Use social media to your advantage
Social media is a great way to communicate with patients and post educational health tips and strategies. You can create forums and discussion groups relating to certain health topics in order to better refine the information available and even direct patients to legitimate websites and online medical sources. With your help, patients can decipher between accurate and inaccurate medical facts.
Encourage patients to ask questions and provide feedback
Patient education is all about effective doctor-patient communication. For this reason, encourage your patients to be open and ask questions relating to their health. Let them know that you are willing to address their questions and any concerns that they might have. Moreover, have your patients provide feedback so that you can better tailor educational health materials. This can be done through verbal communication and even through online questionnaires or surveys.
Similar to carefully prescribing medications, providing information to your patients should be done with proper care. You might assume that a patient will remember things when they might not. This, in turn, can lead to a whirlwind of problems, especially if the patient is supposed to undergo surgery. As many as 40% of patients forget pre-op instructions – Why? Often, the patient may feel nervous and may have difficulty comprehending or remembering the provided instructions. For this reason, you can help the patient prep for surgery by providing them with general information such as what they can expect during surgery, the importance of arriving early at the health facility, completing necessary paperwork, and more. In addition, you can reinforce surgery instructions relating to fasting, medications, anesthesia, and postoperative care.
- Fasting – Patients are frequently told not to eat after midnight on the day before their surgery. This is done for several reasons; however, some patients do not always abide by the rules and they do not realize the consequences of their actions. The reasons for fasting should be explained in detail to each patient. For instance, it is important to stress the difference between clear liquids and a light meal. Clear liquids are typically water or tea, while a light meal may consist of edible items such as toast.
- Medications – It is important to stress to your patients the importance of open communication when it comes to medications. Some patients may brush off their daily medication as being irrelevant to their surgery, when in fact; the medication could interfere with the surgery and lead to unwanted complications. Consult with each patient to be sure of what medications they are taking, whether they should discontinue them before surgery, or whether they should switch to an alternative medication.
- Anesthesia – Patients may have several questions when it comes to types of anesthesia. The type of anesthesia that a patient receives will depend on the type of surgery they need to undergo and their current medical condition. Have an anesthesiologist sit down with them prior to their date of surgery in order to discuss their questions and concerns, as well as what they can expect.
- Postoperative care – Even though you may make every effort to help a patient feel comfortable before, during, and after surgery, chances are that they may experience some pain or soreness after the anesthesia starts to wear off. Some patients may even wake up befuddled and not understand what is happening. While every patient’s reaction to anesthesia and pain medication varies, you should inform each patient before their surgery about what they can expect and even reassure them well after their surgery. Moreover, communicate and jot down post-operative care instructions for the patient and their family to have before discharge.
It is often said that the information that patients receive from their doctors can lead to higher patient satisfaction, lower occurrence of problems, as well as improved quality of life. However, the positive implications can have significant outcomes for you as well. Lower occurrence of problems can directly lead to reduced malpractice lawsuits, corrective surgeries, or both. Patient education means patient empowerment - when you educate your patients, you empower them to turn to you in times of need rather than relying on online and offline sources for health-related information.
As a doctor, you are passing on knowledge to your patients on a daily basis. However, there are patients who are likely to forget the information discussed at your office. Perhaps this is due to the anxiety of being in a clinical setting or perhaps they are emotionally exhausted due to being ill. Nonetheless, educating patients should extend beyond your office in order to prove effective. When patients begin to comprehend your way of thinking and judgment, as well as feel as if they can trust you; they are more likely to abide by your instructions, recommendations, and care plan.