The past year has brought forth a lot of changes in healthcare, due in no small part to COVID. When even the most experienced medical practices and providers have struggled with all of the changes that have happened, imagine how patients have felt trying to navigate the healthcare system during a pandemic.
Every healthcare provider has had to deal with the patient who did a frantic online search at 2am and is now worried, or the patient who is frustrated because no one has given them the answers they need. Though the pandemic may have heightened the uncertainty patients feel when trying to navigate healthcare, it was always there to some degree. Proactively educating your patients can help to alleviate some of these worries and frustrations so that you can focus on taking care of them.
Creating the Content Your Patients Need
As the care provider, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what educational content your patients might need. Even for a single appointment, different members of your team interact with the patient at different points in the process, so it helps to get feedback from multiple team members on where patients may need some extra guidance.
Start with the common questions you hear. What are patients asking at the front desk or over the phone? What do they ask providers during the appointment? Do they call with followup questions afterward? What questions do they have before and after procedures? These are the questions you need to answer in your patient education.
It might also be helpful to do some research on what people are searching online about a particular topic or treatment area. Usually, if you do a few Google searches around a particular condition or procedure, you’ll see the “People also ask” knowledge box with other common questions that may be related. You can use those questions to help build out your patient education, also.
The most important thing about your educational content is making sure that it aligns with your practice’s current processes as much as possible. Medical device and pharma companies often provide educational content about their products, but they are often too generic to answer all of your patient’s questions. It’s fine to provide this content to your patients as a starting point, but make sure you are also providing the content that fills in those gaps.
Choosing Your Content Format
Once you’ve decided what educational content you need to create, you will need to figure out what format will work best for sharing that information. Will you use written content? FAQs? Infographics? Video? Sometimes, the answer might be “all of the above.”
This will often depend on the type of information you need to share. For content on office processes (like COVID-19 policies), regular written content or FAQs should work just fine. If the information is something you often need to physically demonstrate, like post-operative exercises, video and/or infographics would be the most effective way to share that with your patients.
For content that explains a particular condition, procedure, or service, you might find that your educational materials could benefit from multiple formats. Some patients might want to simply read about it, while others might prefer to watch a video. Visual elements like video or infographics can also help explain more complex concepts.
If you aren’t sure what format your patients will prefer, try doing a test run. Show your content to friends, family, or even current patients who are unfamiliar with the subject matter and ask for their opinions. Do they still have a lot of questions, or do they feel well-informed? Those answers will let you know whether or not you are on the right track.
Distributing Educational Content to Patients
The other important piece of patient education is making sure that the information gets to your patients when they need it. After all, the content won’t be helpful if your patients aren’t aware it exists. When you are proactive in both creating the content and getting it into the hands of your patients, you can have more productive conversations with patients while they are in your office.
The first step is getting all of your educational content up on your website. Your website should serve as the “home base” of all the information your patients need to know. Make sure that the content is laid out in a way that is easy to read and navigate from any device, including mobile phones, so that it will be user-friendly no matter where your patients are.
From there, you have several options for getting the information to your patients. For in-office appointments, you might create print-outs or brochures of written information and infographics for patients to take home with them. However, more and more practices are moving toward email and patient portals for communication, and this is another great opportunity to point patients to helpful content. Your office staff should be made aware of all of the content available to send to patients. Even better, create lists or template emails/messages for each treatment area and condition that contain links to all of the content a patient might need. It will be that much quicker for your staff to send a quick email or patient portal message with all of the content patients need at every step of the way.
The goal of proactive patient education is not to answer every question your patients could possibly have. There are, of course, certain questions that can’t be answered in a universal manner. The idea here is to give patients all the basic information that they need to know at every step of the way. When your patients already understand the basics, they are reassured about what to expect, and you can have more productive conversations in the office because you don’t have to explain that basic information.
Simply put, when your patients are well prepared ahead of time, it saves a lot of time for everyone.
Want to learn more about the benefits of proactive patient education? We did an episode about it on our Paradigm Shift of Healthcare podcast. Listen to Episode 61: Education Is the New Marketing on the Health Connective website.