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Why Patient Education is Vital for Engagement, Better Outcomes

As a part of the healthcare industry's move toward patient-centered care, providers need to focus on educating patients on their conditions and treatment options to foster better engagement.

By Sara Heath

The healthcare industry has made many efforts to become more patient-centric, especially through its push for better patient engagement. However, in order to improve patient engagement, providers need to understand patient education.

patient-education

Patient education  can include information about conditions and treatments or how to navigate the healthcare system. Ultimately, these educational efforts may help empower patients and inspire them to take ownership of their care.

Education helps patients make informed decisions

One of the primary goals of patient-centered care is integrating patients as partners in the care team. In order to make this partnership successful, experts say providers need to account for patient preferences.

Ensuring informed decision-making relies heavily on patient education. When patients are more knowledgeable about their care and potential treatment options, they are better able to identify how they do or do not want to receive their healthcare.

READ MORE: What Consumer Characteristics Predict High Health Literacy?

According to Corey Siegel, MD, of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, providers need to issue informative material to help keep patients activated in and educated about their treatment.

“The idea is really to understand what their preferences are and have them make a decision that matches that preference, and that physicians and providers help guide them, too,” Siegel said in an interview.

Through robust patient education materials as well as provider guidance, patients can make an informed decisions based on solid information, cementing themselves as authoritative voices on patient preference.

Education tools must utilize multiple sources

Education should go beyond patient-provider conversations within the doctor’s office. When patients consult multiple sources, they receive a broader view of their healthcare and treatment options.

READ MORE: How Social Media Can Improve Public Health, Patient Education

Providing options is a key aspect of patient engagement and education.

“It can happen in a simple conversation in the office, which I think is a great place to start,” Siegel explained. “It’s offering patients to get more information from specialty to societies.”

According to the American Medical Association, providers should direct patients to outside information regarding their treatment. Like Siegel, AMA states that outside specialty societies can help connect patients with reliable sources and serve as a reliable source in itself.

One study investigated the effectiveness of a patient education hub which aggregated multiple sources. Focusing on optimal aging, this tool provided users with evidence summaries, web resource ratings, and informative blog posts.

Through qualitative surveying, the researchers determined areas in which the resource portals excelled and where they did not. The portal benefits included information credibility, applicability, browsing function, design, and accessibility. The pitfalls largely centered on the registration process and the technical usability of the tool.

READ MORE: Internet Familiarity Tied to Patient Digital Health Literacy

Despite those potential flaws, patients who used the educational portal still displayed better health. The researchers said their positive results were likely due to the multiple sources patients were exposed to and the manageability of those sources. Because patients had access to plenty of health information, they were better able to make improvements in their health.

Patient education is necessary for data upkeep

The importance of patient education extends beyond knowledge about conditions and treatment options. Patients also need to understand how to navigate the healthcare system and how to maintain their health data.

Primarily, healthcare experts find that patients aren’t knowledgeable about their rights for health data access under HIPAA. Recently, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT released several informative videos aiming to boost patient education on this topic.

According to Karen DeSalvo, MD, acting assistant secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services, and Jocelyn Samuels, JD, of the Office of Civil Rights, these educational measures are necessary because patient access to health data improves engagement.

“Providing individuals with easy access to their health information empowers them to be more in control of decisions regarding their health and well-being,” DeSalvo and Samuels wrote in an ONC blog post.

“Individuals with access to their health information are better able to monitor chronic conditions, adhere to treatment plans, find and fix errors, and directly contribute their information to research.”

By educating patients about their rights to access health data, industry leaders foster engagement both inside and outside of the doctor’s office. With adequate access to health data, patients can better understand the unique aspects of their health, spurring them to seek information that is more relevant to their cases.

Ultimately, this sense of empowerment may help make the industry more efficient by helping to realize goals of patient-centered, value-based healthcare.

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