Patient education is more than just checking off a box, especially during physical therapy. Visitors to our clinic often come in with two very simple questions: “Is this going to hurt?” and “How long is it going to take?” Some are quite skeptical, while others are reluctant to commit to the process. After all, the road to recovery from an injury or disability is often lengthy and challenging. An investment of time and effort into effective patient education, however, can significantly improve a patient’s attitude and create an environment of trust and understanding throughout the course of treatment. The results can be significant, including better outcomes for both patient and clinician.
When we talk about patient education, we’re really talking about effective communication. Patients tend to respond better when they feel their clinicians have taken time to clearly and sincerely communicate instructions, expectations, and recommendations. Active listening is important as well. Often a patient just wants to be heard. Ask yourself: are my patients being given an opportunity to share their feelings? Their pain levels? Reflections on treatment?
In our experience, a sustained focus on patient education has led to:
- Improved adherence to exercise, diet, and medication directives
- Better understanding of the patient’s condition
- More efficient communication (meaning fewer calls and emails)
- Realistic patient expectations especially regarding timelines
- Easing of fear or apprehension
- A safer therapy environment
- Increased satisfaction with the treatment plan, leading to more referrals
- An open environment to discuss questions and concerns
- Stronger relationships characterized by respect and empowerment
- Improved outcomes in the patient’s health and well-being
What better way to garner positive attitudes toward your clinic than executing therapy plans that improve the lives of your patients? When patients feel valued, capable, and clear on what they need to do, they tend to bring a better attitude toward therapy. This can help them avoid prolonging their treatment by making avoidable mistakes at home.
Isn’t that what patient education is all about?
Some Tips for Improving Patient Education
It starts with empathy. How often do we stop to consider things from the patient’s perspective? A patient’s state of mind, age, education, background, or even the nature of their therapy needs can impede or improve their education throughout the course for therapy. This is especially important to consider when designing educational materials for the clinic. For example, some patients have never heard of an Anti-Gravity Treadmill(R) before, so we make sure to communicate instructions in layperson’s terms to avoid confusion and accommodate all kinds of expectations. Likewise, we strive to deliver simplified, easily digestible support materials that avoid jargon and overly technical terms.
Strong verbal communication can be significantly enhanced by high-quality education materials. Those fifteen to twenty minutes in the waiting room can be gold, given the right materials. Give your patient a generic, run-of-the-mill pamphlet on arthritis and you’ll likely see the patient’s eyes glaze over. Try creating your own, or enlisting the help of a local graphic designer. Have you thought about going digital? Interactive digital resources like tablets can encourage usage and knowledge retention. The result is an engaged patient that walks into the therapy session armed with targeted questions and enhanced understanding.
Finally, specificity is your friend. Rather than just telling clients how important a healthy diet is to the success of their therapy routine, give them specific resources that teach them how to execute a healthy diet. Staff-recommended recipes, or useful pages to follow on Facebook. Have a cheat-sheet of low-sugar or low-acid foods ready to hand out.
The Hidden Value
Although it can be difficult to quantify the value of good patient education, neglecting it would be to the detriment of your clinic. Think of each patient’s visit as a block of time that you can personalize with curated, high-quality education materials. From staff training to the physical materials provided in the office, a well curated approach to patient education can lead to improved health outcomes.
This, of course, is our goal as physical therapists.