Patient engagement solutions have turned into a vibrant market, and their value is projected to hit around $26 billion by 2024. Trying to foster engagement, providers offer patients numerous personalized services, and patient education is one of them. But given the associated costs and unpredictable factors (low adoption by patients or staff members, increased workload for medics, etc.), is going for patient education a worthy effort? Let’s have a closer look.

Is patient education needed?

The need for patient education and engagement is vividly discussed everywhere today. But do patients want more knowledge about their healthcare matters? Let’s turn to stats again.

According to Statista, 65% of patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease prefer consulting a thematic website to communicating with a healthcare professional (58%). This means patients are eager to learn and actively engage in their health.

But here comes a pitfall. Over 40% of Americans do self-diagnosing with the help of websites instead of seeing a professional (The Tinker Law Firm study, 2018). This seemingly benign practice may turn hazardous. Having misdiagnosed themselves, such patients may experience anxiety and depression and even go for medicines that may harm them. That’s not to mention that health-related sources vary in the quality of information they provide.

So with patient centricity as a key healthcare industry trend, ensuring reliable and accessible patient education in a secure environment is highly recommended. But is it that simple for providers? Not really.

A hard nut to crack

Providing informative and actionable education to patients is not an easy task. It requires extensive investments from the providers, and it’s not only about money. According to Tom Bauer, Head of Patient Education at John Hopkins Community Physicians, the main challenge is to introduce clear educational materials into the practitioner’s routine and to start educating a patient at the right time in their journey. In addition, patient education should actually start from day one of the hospital stays, and in fact, it mostly rests upon nurses. It’s nurses who have to explain the details of conditions to patients, and it’s their responsibility to make sure the patient understands what they have heard.

Now let’s try to imagine the amount of educational work that lands on clinicians. First of all, they are to evaluate the patient’s health literacy. Then they need to choose a suitable approach to informing in order to enhance the patient’s knowledge without overloading them with complex medical terms and hope for the educated patient to emerge. No matter how hard the professionals try, this may never happen. And clinicians’ regular tasks are also there to attend to.

Luckily, nowadays providers can employ a range of digital tools that facilitate patient education and engagement, helping build up valuable partnerships between doctors and patients.

Effective digital assistants

Patients welcome technologies, so employing them for patients’ education is a reasonable step. Let’s look at the most widely used solutions below.

Patient portals

Patient portals bring together data sets and tools for efficient health management and doctor-patient interaction. According to the KLAS Top of Mind 2020 report, about 70% of featured hospitals adopted patient portals as a means to involve patients and their families in their health management and made comprehensible educational materials their integral part.

The American Medical Association (AMA) reported about their educational initiative that consisted in launching a patient-centered hub of educational resources on optimal aging. The team selected credible and reputable data-rich resources and added them to the hub for patients to consult. The team ran subsequent research on patients who used the hub. According to the researchers, the patients managed to improve their health, and it was due to the access to that valuable multi-source data.

Still, there’s a fly in the ointment. The research participants reported that the web-based environment was complex to navigate and lacked user-friendliness. Unfortunately, these stumbling blocks are common for many portals, some of which are only visited once by patients.

Luckily, there are other IT solutions that support education among patients without causing any adoption difficulties, such as healthcare apps.

Education at fingertips

Mobile apps enable health management and access to quality health-related information at the patient’s fingertips while being available at any time and from any location. Besides, healthcare apps are not one-sided. As a rule, providers deploy separate medical apps for staff and their patients. With patient education apps, we get an efficient communication channel for providing timely help and improving patient outcomes.

Mobile apps bear special significance for patients suffering from chronic diseases. With this in mind, experts from Providence St. Joseph Health developed an AI-powered app that looks at specific patient data and sources the relevant educational materials from the internet to display it right in the app. This saves patients time on online search and enables them to make informed decisions and thus take timely action.

For providers, such apps assist in maintaining provider-patient relationships in between the episodes of care and staying informed about the patient’s health to keep their offers relevant. In turn, tailored care offers nurture patient engagement.

What’s more, mobile technologies provide another opportunity for patient education through wellness apps. These apps range from common sleep monitors and nutrition tips to far more exotic mood trackers. At the same time, experts are concerned with the quality of these apps. In late 2019, the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association published an article featuring the study of some 74 wellness apps, and the researchers concluded that due to insufficient involvement of medical professionals, many apps may not only be useless but also harmful to consumers. So creating high-quality, professionally reviewed apps may add scores to a provider’s reputation while fostering engagement.

Double-edged benefits

Patients value health education as it improves their health outcomes, helps make necessary changes to their lifestyle, and lower the cost they incur due to a reduced number of unneeded hospital stays. But what’s in it for providers? In fact, the benefits for the two parties are interconnected. How so?

First of all, patient education helps establish a trusted partnership between patients and healthcare providers. When patients are well aware of what they need to do and why their motivation to follow professional recommendations climbs up. Besides, when the number of preventable patient admissions lowers, providers can improve the care quality for in-patients without overloading their staff, which in its turn works to the benefit of the improved patient experience.

Patients’ acknowledgment of care plans and informed dialog with medical professionals helps improve not only particular outcomes but also the quality of life, which is one of the top priorities for healthcare.

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