Proper Patient Education

Submitted on Tue, 03/31/2015

A visit to your health provider is intended to improve your health and well-being. However, such a visit may often be overwhelming, and medical information can get lost in translation. Additionally, health information provided in a stressful or unfamiliar situation is unlikely to be retained. According to a recent infographic released by ORCA Health, about 50% of patients walk out of the physician’s office not knowing what they were told or advised to do in follow up. If a patient doesn’t understand what they were told, they are more than likely to skip necessary medical testing or take their prescribed medications incorrectly.

A patient’s “health literacy” is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information that is necessary to make appropriate health decisions. Low health literacy does not always have to do with a patient’s education and general reading ability, but more so with how they comprehend the medical information they receive.

Poor patient literacy drives up costs to the healthcare industry and worsens patient outcomes. When patients don’t adhere to the medical advice given to them it can be costly to the healthcare industry. Currently, that cost is $238 billion a year.

Many factors contribute to how a patient comprehends medical information and how they apply those skills in health care situations. The patient’s reading, analytical and decision making skills all come into play. Limited knowledge on health topics, misinformation about the body, or misinformation about the nature and causes of illnesses can affect the way a patient will process medical information.

An important tool for improving health literacy is converting medical jargon into plain language to make it easier for those with low health literacy to understand. In order to reduce confusion, the patient needs to be able to understand what is being said the first time that they hear it.

Communication is essential when relaying medical information to patients. Research shows that 90% of adults have difficulty following routine medical advice due to the fact that it is often incomprehensible to the average person. Complex and unfamiliar medical terms can increase patient confusion and often hearing instructions once is not enough to intellectually process the information given.

In order to do this, medical professionals must attempt to develop a plan for communicating with their patients. First, the delivery of medical information to the patient should be structured so that the most important information comes first. In addition, complex terms should be broken down and information explained in short, simple sentences. Most importantly, know your patient! Understanding your patient is the key to being able to effectively communicate with them. Knowing your patient’s background, values, and health beliefs can assist healthcare professionals in connecting with the patient. Building a rapport with patients can aid in encouraging them to ask questions and obtain further explanation of instructions.

To improve health literacy, clinicians must work together to ensure that everyone understands, to the best of their ability, the health information they receive from their medical provider. In doing so the costs to the healthcare system can be reduced and better patient outcomes can be expected.