Patient Engagement Begins with Education

Patient Engagement, hand cupped to ear

If a patient does not have a solid understanding, they cannot be engaged.  Patient engagement must begin with education.  When attempting to educate a patient, many factors will come into play.  The level of health literacy, the learning style of the patient, the ability of the physician to explain and the quality of patient education handouts are all factors in how thorough of an understanding the patient will have when they leave.

Health literacy is an issue that spans across all demographics and intelligence levels.  It is the ability to read and understand information about your health and make decisions about it.  Health literacy is critical in patient engagement and motivating them to practice self-management of chronic diseases, medication adherence and care transition.  Because of time constraints, it is common for physicians to provide printed handouts to patients in lieu of offering an extensive explanation.  This leaves a substantial amount of patients without a conclusive understanding of their responsibility to manage their health.

People have different learning styles.  Some individuals learn best when being spoken to, others will need to be shown and some just have to do it themselves.   Educating patients with their preferred learning style helps ensure their engagement and understanding of the material.  A physician who struggles with communicating information in terms the patient can understand can even turn off patients with auditory learning styles.  Providing materials for the patient to take home is crucial in ensuring they have a comprehensive understanding of their responsibilities.

Many patients will nod in assurance they understand, but leave without any knowledge of even a simple required task such as when to take their medication.  Many patients are too anxious and confused to ask valuable questions at the physician’s office. This often leads to a preventable readmission into the hospital.  Providing materials for the patient to view at home can lead to a dramatic reduction in readmission rates, but they must be in an engaging format.

Ideally, physicians should offer a variety of materials that address multiple learning styles, various levels of health literacy and can evoke emotion.  Printed health education materials will be ideal for many, but videos will help bridge educational and language barriers, especially with complex situations.  Having a variety of tools that work to both engage and educate the patient, allows them to make better decisions regarding their health.