Today’s patients have unprecedented access to healthcare information, and it’s easy to come by—just a few taps on a keyboard returns volumes of information. But, the results of an online search can be daunting, confusing and frustrating. Worst of all, it could be misleading, wrong or even potentially harmful. Some might think that today’s unhindered access to medical information would lead to better informed patients who are adequately equipped and knowledgeable enough to understand their condition, ask the right questions, consider their appropriate options and choose reasonable goals along their path to wellness.
This, however, is too often not the case. In fact, the information found on the Internet typically becomes a hurdle and source of frustration for both patients and healthcare providers. There is simply too much of it—and it is often presented in a context not appropriate to the audience. It comes from a myriad of sources, all of which have different and conflicting agendas. Just as physicians must sometimes convince their patients to give up their bad habits, they must now be diligent in preventing the potential damage from misinformation.
Two Questions To Ask About Internet Medical Information
When considering the validity of any source of medical information for any purpose, there are two crucial questions both healthcare providers and patients should ask:
- Is the information trustworthy?
- Is the information easily understood?
These questions may be particularly difficult for patients and caregivers, whose general literacy and—more importantly—healthcare literacy, are not at a level that allows them to understand what they find.
While healthcare information is easily accessible, it is more important that patients’ receive the right information at the right time. At Artcraft Health, we, as patient educators, need to ensure that patients aren’t frustrated by the healthcare information they receive, whether it is found on the Internet or provided in a doctor’s waiting or exam room. Healthcare information must translate into knowledge, skill and comprehension—that is, patient education.
Some may ask, “Does patient education really matter?” The answer: Patient education matters more than ever. In many cases, the formerly complacent patient is venturing into the active patient role for the first time, and the opportunity for health educators to be a part of the empowerment and decision-making process is ever present.
Healthcare is dynamic, and it’s evolving rapidly. The current standard has moved away from a disease-centered model, in which healthcare professionals make the treatment decisions, to the patient-centered model, in which patients are cast as integral members of the healthcare team. They are largely responsible for their own healthcare and, more often than not, are accountable for its success or failure.
Help Patients Clear the Hurdles
Major medical decisions are often made at a crossroads in a patient’s journey. Usually, the first decision made is to seek help, which leads to a doctor’s visit. From that point on, these questions become important: What does the patient observe, read or hear that influences his or her journey and decisions? Does the information pertain to the patient at the point of care, or is it generic and irrelevant? Patients are faced with difficult questions at every hurdle on the patient journey. They ask:
- Should I fight this disease or let nature take its course?
- Are the side effects of treatment worse than the symptoms?
- What if the cost of treatment is too large and I must make difficult financial sacrifices: Do I sell my home or stay the treatment course?
- Are there other options out there?
- I feel better. Do I stay on my treatment?
Different people have different paths, and although patients follow different trajectories on their journeys, a critical aspect unifies their paths: The need for clear, actionable, relevant and engaging patient education.
Speak To Me On My Level
Neither patients nor their caregivers can make informed decisions if they don’t understand their condition, its treatment or how critical their role is in their own care. We are all patients in some capacity, so you have to think, “What information would I respond to?” Today, personalized digital information and interaction are normal and ubiquitous. My phone says, “Good Morning, Marc;” Facebook is all about my timeline; and Amazon knows what else I should purchase with my new grill. Why shouldn’t we, as patients, expect the same from healthcare? In other words, speak to me on my level, at my point of care, when I need it. The era of the disease-centered model of healthcare has faded, and the patient-centered model is clamoring for empowerment.
Match Every Patient’s Needs
Each patient is not created equal, so educators need to develop a standard that ensures patient education, including both traditional and digital solutions, is matched to every patient’s need and purpose. It should be:
Clear: Patient education must be plainly written, clear and easy to understand. Patients can’t act on information that they don’t understand.
Actionable: Information must truly inform the patient, providing insight and a basis for their decisions. This becomes empowerment.
Relevant: Patients need information that is more personalized—specific to them and relevant to their situations and their circumstances. Generic handouts just won’t do.
Engaging: Patient education must open the door to a conversation with a patient’s healthcare team and caregivers. That conversation may get the patient to focus on his or her role in the treatment process and on the desired outcome.
Become an On-Demand Center for Medical Information
Clearly, major medical decisions should not be made in frustration. As patients are held accountable for their own care, they must be empowered to make their own informed decisions and participate in an equal partnership with their healthcare team. Patient education can provide the key to empowerment that enables patients to overcome the hurdles that lead to frustration and pave a path to better outcomes.
In today’s “on-demand” information age, the opportunity to be a center of influence and to be the on-demand information provider is ripe for the taking. So, when implementing any tactic or campaign directed at the patient audience, ask yourself this question: “Am I a source of patient empowerment?”