Educating patients helps us help them

December 17, 2010

Patient education always has been a priority in this author's office.

First, I set a budget for information to have available. For common topics, I purchase publications from reputable sources such as the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. These pieces cover all kinds of subjects and are relatively inexpensive. In addition, I write some handouts on matters such as over-the-counter drug doses and protocols, procedures, and consents.

I commissioned a custom-made brochure rack for the reception area in the office. It holds 80 different pamphlets on all kinds of topics. It is set apart in a small alcove for some privacy, has its own directed spotlight, and is very popular with patients. In addition, I put a publication rack in each exam room. Each holds pieces focusing on 10 different subjects, and I feature topics that are a bit more personal in nature. Most often, patients have picked up a brochure after the nurse has left the room, or she hands them one that is germane to their visit. For instance, 1 room is used predominantly for gynecologic appointments, and the subjects of the pamphlets in that room all are related to women's health. Publications in rooms focused on orthopedics or pediatric care contain information related to those areas of medicine.

Using a strategy that is mentioned in the patient education article "One patient at a time" of this issue, I often direct tech-savvy patients to the Internet, but I insist that they visit reputable sites and have them promise to contact me with any questions they have after reading the information. I specifically caution them not to visit "Bob's Blog About Anti-Depressants" and similar sites. I explain that such sites contain information based on personal experience and that the information patients would obtain from them is no better than what they would receive if they stopped a random person on the street and asked for an opinion about treatment options.

Also, I draw on exam room table paper very frequently to illustrate my messages to patients. Often, patients take home the paper to explain things to their families. I offer to sign the "artwork" originals.

A well-informed patient receives better healthcare than one who is ill-informed, and a knowledgeable patient makes my job easier as well. So you bet I believe in patient education. After all, the word physician means teacher.

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