One patient at a time

December 17, 2010

Physician-patient encounters are full of teachable moments.

Key Points

Physician-patient encounters are full of teachable moments. But time constraints and patient resistance exist, plus the fact that medical schools rarely teach physicians how to teach. Still, enlightening patients about their medical problems, and instructing them on how to follow treatment regimens and focus their online research, benefit all concerned. Educated patients may even get better faster, and you get fewer late-night phone calls and earn higher marks in quality and patient outcome measures.

It's important to know your patients and how each one best responds and learns. Factors that might seem on the surface like they could be related often aren't. Take age and tech-savvy, for example.

Some doctors have made patient education a primary focus of their practices.

Reddy says she asks open-ended questions and customizes education to the style in which each patient questions and responds. "I provide Web site content if patients have access and otherwise distribute appropriate printed materials, many in Spanish," she explains.

"The center of care has the job of collaborating with the patient as opposed to instructing the patient," Zacharoff continues, "and part of the role of being that collaborator is talking to the patient in a way that is meaningful and is going to result in some level of retention. Healthcare providers can't speak to a 32-year-old woman who is diabetic in the same way they would speak to a 72-year-old woman who is diabetic, because the context of their lives, activities of daily living, and goals of treatment are different."