Quick: what's the best patient education resource in your utility belt? Can you name an information source off the top of your head, or direct your patients to it within their patient portal? If you aren't making use of patient education resources, there's a good chance your patients don't fully understand the measures they're taking to protect their health. Studies show that patient education is crucial to promoting medicine adherence, explaining procedures, and diagnosing patients early.
The world of patient education has transformed drastically in the last twenty years. While patient information resources were limited to office pamphlets in the past, today patients face an overabundance of Internet knowledge--much of it incorrect and counterproductive. But thanks to digital health technology, comprehensive patient education can be done in-office or at home. Take a look at these resources that can be implemented in any practice.
Learning by doing works well in many situations--but it's a little hard for patients to use that tactic without a license to practice. Luckily, there's an app for that. Learning games can help patients feel more in-control of their own health, and they're especially effective for younger patients.
The Washington Post reports that teens spend over seven hours a day consuming media, citing a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and that media includes mobile, online and platform games. It's easy to sneak some patient education into that timeslot! Surgery Squad is a website that offers flash games to simulate performing various common procedures. For young teens, the interactive braces game gives a step-by-step look at aligning teeth, explaining the architecture of the jaw and the appliances at work.
Games are also a great way to make young patients more comfortable in the doctor's office, which can often seem cold and clinical to youth. Making patients feel comfortable is crucial to open lines of communication and really meet patients' needs. One app that doesn't necessarily teach, but certainly breaks the ice, Birth Control: The Game is good to have on-hand for adolescents with questions about safe sex. No, the goofy game isn't a realistic example of fertilization, but letting young patients play the game while waiting on an appointment may ease the tension in the exam room.
How can a physician convince a patient to spend time with education resources? The easiest way is to work information into a patient's routine. Podcasts are a great option for this. The popularity of podcasts has soared in recent years, thanks to the new portability offered by mobile tech. According to Tunheim, a brand management and strategy company, millions of Americans listen to podcasts every month. Tunheim also maintains that podcasts are a great lead generator, so if you have the resources, recording a practice-specific podcast may not be a bad idea! But for patient education, there are plenty of excellent podcasts you can recommend to your patients.
If a patient is preparing for a lengthy treatment process, or getting ready to make crucial health decisions, "prescribe" a topical podcast. Many medical institutions and research groups offer issue-specific podcasts. For example, the University of North Carolina Kidney Center has a podcast on iTunes that touches not just on specifics of kidney disease, but also the social aspects of treatment, such as working through treatment as a family. You can curate podcasts that integrate well with your practice. Try browsing through the BMJ podcast database, which provides podcasts from various specialty journals. Or, pick one of the hundreds of medically-focused podcasts on iTunes. You can recommend a series or individual episodes to patients.
We've discussed medicine adherence apps on this blog before, but medically-focused apps can do so much more. They're one of the best resources patients can access at home, and a lot of them perform double duty. A medicine adherence app by Drugs.com, Pill Reminder, boasts a database with drug information, side effects, and a pill identification guide. Since patients who take medication frequently are regularly interacting with the app, they have frequent opportunities to interact with the educational options, too.
Digital apps can also be used in-office to help patients understand the nuances of different conditions. VisualDx is an application that allows for visual confirmation of dermatological diagnoses. Physicians can use the app to teach patients what to look for when tracking skin condition changes, or help patients differentiate between types of abnormalities. With summer just around the corner, fear-mongering articles will be popping up all over the web, asking "Is THAT Skin Cancer?" Teaching patients what symptoms they should worry about prevents unnecessary office visits, and saves patients the stress brought on by Google, MD.
Apps also do a great service to physicians who need to explain conditions that can't be seen. Melissa McCormack at The Profitable Practice writes about a neurological map app, 3D Brain, that gives an inside look at our grey matter. McCormack points out that while neurological conditions are hard for patients to grasp when explained verbally, seeing an interactive diagram takes some of the mystery away. And, the free app can be used in-office, or at home--so patients can reference the resource themselves and discuss it with their physician.
There's a good chance you remember cheesy educational videos from elementary school. Or, if you have children, they've probably come home at some point raving about The Magic School Bus or Bill Nye the Science Guy. Patient education videos are just like those educational programs school-age children watch, but for an adult audience. Videos make things seem simple, so issues that would normally overwhelm patients are suddenly seen for what they are: manageable health issues.
Videos are one of the most convenient ways for patients to learn about their health at their own pace. According to the Huffington Post, YouTube has one billion unique website visitors every month--one out of every two people on the Internet. It's safe to assume that most patients are familiar with watching internet videos! Most video services offer closed-captioning, which is a great way to accommodate hard-of-hearing patients. And rewinding an online video is simple. If a patient wants to re-watch parts of a short film to better understand it, they can. That beats expecting patients to remember the massive amount of verbal information delivered in an office visit.
The Mayo Clinic offers videos on everything from cancer treatment options to advice for in-home caregivers. The breadth of topical coverage is excellent, and the films are high-quality and frequently updated. PreOp.com has an extensive video catalog, as well as a YouTube channel, that explain different types of surgery with diagrams, animation and simple voiceover. The channel covers many different procedures, from LASIK laser surgery to hysterectomies, so patients know what to expect when undergoing an operation. The animations are clear and detailed, but not gruesome, so they're also a great way to assuage the fears of a child going into surgery for the first time. The website also produces many Spanish-language videos, an example of why videos are a great choice for patients with literacy challenges or non-native English speakers. Loading videos into your patient portal lets patients know you understand their concerns, and want to provide guidance, not just a prescription.
What patient education resources do you rely on? Do you prefer in-office education, or do you utilize your patient portal? Let us know in the comments!