We are at an inflection point in patient education pursuits across the globe. A dramatic change in health, healing, and well-being lies just on the other side of what I call the patient education chasm – the rift between what healthcare organizations envision for their patients’ educational experiences, and the ability of those organizations to effectively deliver that experience.
In the paragraphs to follow, I explore two critical transformative questions that will impact the patient education chasm:
- What factors are increasing the divide in the patient education chasm?
- Is it possible to shrink the divide?
The Expectation Gap
There are two factors that are widening the rift in health education further and further. The first factor involves the expectation gap in how patients, experience health education and how providers deliver health education.
I had a chance recently to lead a focus group discussion with care providers from a large health system. They characterized their experience educating patients as difficult, inadequate, time-constrained, complicated, emotional, and confusing, and they often left the bedside or exam room wondering if the patient truly understood.
I asked the same group of providers to think of themselves as patients. Then I asked them to explain past experiences as a patient and how they perceived their patient education interaction with their doctor or nurse. They shared with me characteristics such as confused, anxious, rushed, unimportant, dazed, and an overall feeling of being overwhelmed and fearful.
“Unless there are changes in how health education is delivered and also supplemented outside of the care environment, the gap between the patient and provider factions will continue to widen.”
The tone and characteristics expressed in both lines of questioning were similar. Providers want to create educational environments that are different from what they are today. Patients want educational environments that are different from what they are today. But unless there are changes in how health education is delivered and also supplemented outside of the care environment, the gap between the patient and provider factions will continue to widen.
Creating Actionable Health Information
The second factor increasing the divide in the patient education chasm is inadequate means to translate health data into actionable health information. Doctors, nurses, therapists, and counselors serve a critical role in translating the clinical health data about a patient into information and words patients can understand and treatment plans they can follow.
The volume of health data is increasing exponentially and is estimated to grow 15 times by 2020. Some of this data will originate during medical office visits and hospitalizations, but a portion of the data will originate from the patients themselves outside the context of a healthcare encounter. There will not be enough healthcare provider translators to help patients understand what the data means nor what they should do.
“Organizations are leveraging clinical data, healthcare portals, and multimedia patient education technologies to change the way they are providing patient education…”
As a result, important opportunities to impact a patient’s behavior at critical moments of influence will be missed. Patients will either be forced to interpret data on their own from the Internet or will have to live with the limited education they receive during the 1% of their life when they are interacting in person with a healthcare provider.
A Vision for Change
Organizations from small medical offices to large health systems are adopting beliefs and taking actions to make the patient education chasm smaller. The first factor that is narrowing the gap is a vision for how patient education can change.
During a recent focus group discussion, I asked care providers to describe their ideal patient education experience. With sticky notes in hand, they wrote down terms like understanding, visual, clear, in adequate time, compassionate, focused, in the moment, interactive, a dialog not a lecture, involving family, and ultimately repeatable across patients. Many of the providers gave testimony that they find education time with patients very rewarding and an important element to a patient’s compliance with care plans and overall satisfaction.
Leveraging Opportunities to Reach Patients Beyond the Care Setting
The second factor for shrinking the patient education chasm is extending education beyond the care setting. In research done by our team at WelVU, we have concluded that some of the most important moments to influence patients pass by quietly, quickly, and completely unrecognized. In fact, between 50% and 70% of these key moments of influence – before, during, and after a live patient care encounter — pass by unleveraged.
Organizations are looking for additional moments to influence, using technologies and techniques to have their voices heard by patients during moments outside of their traditional care settings, and they are beginning to measure how valuable patient educational nurturing can be to patient satisfaction, managing risk, and even health outcomes.
“If we take action, patients will begin to see how information delivered to them in the right ways, at the right times, and from their trusted healthcare providers will equip them to make better healthcare decisions and ultimately be healthier and happier.”
Shrinking the Patient Education Chasm is Possible
For the first time, I’m seeing organizations defining their own patient education protocols and care plans that deliver contextual, multimedia education to patients over the course of weeks or months. They are leveraging clinical data, healthcare portals, and multimedia patient education technologies to change the way they are providing patient education, closing the patient education chasm to the benefit of both staff and patients.
The biggest mistake we can all make is to do nothing. Relying on our current methods and current constraints will widen and continue to dredge the patient education chasm deeper. However, if we take action, patients will begin to see how information delivered to them in the right ways, at the right times, and from their trusted healthcare providers will equip them to make better healthcare decisions and ultimately be healthier and happier. That is an outcome worthy of our best efforts to close the patient education chasm.
About the Author
Mark Friess is the founder and CEO of WelVU, an InterSystems Application Partner. WelVU is the first multimedia patient education company to leverage personal clinical data, smart visual content, and the trusted words of a healthcare provider to help health systems and medical practices create the next generation of patient education experiences.