Thursday, May 01, 2008

Dispensing patient information

If we all agree that information therapy needs to be prescribed, how do we ensure that it is efficiently dispensed ?

One solution would be to have a patient education resource Center at every point of clinical care. This would include the doctor's clinic ; the pathology laboratory ; the diagnostic center; the pharmacy ; and the hospital. When someone falls sick, these are their contact points with the healthcare system. Each of these represents an opportunity to educate the patient.

We all know that in order for an information prescription to be effective , this information should be provided at the point at which the patient wants it. All of these are ”moment-of-truth” encounters when a patient wants to know more about his problem and his treatment options. Unfortunately most of these opportunities for educating patients are routinely lost. Patients are being forced to search out information for themselves. While it is true that thanks to the Internet and clever search engines this has become a lot easier to do, the internet is not the most effective form of providing information therapy.

Let’s look at what happens to a patient today. He takes an appointment with his doctor, who examines him, makes a tentative diagnosis , advises some tests and scans to confirm the diagnosis ; and possibly writes a prescription. Typically , the patient gets to spent about 15 minutes with the doctor. During this time he has so many questions and is so stressed out that he usually does not retain most of the information the doctor tells him. He then goes to the laboratory to get the blood tests done; and then to the diagnostic center to get an x-ray or a scan. He is dying to know what the results of the scan and blood tests mean , but they make no sense to him and unfortunately , no one is willing to tell him. The standard answer from the technician is - You need to wait to see your doctor , who will explain these results to you. And he then has to suffer through another 2 – 3 days of suspense, anxiety and tension, till the next appointment with the doctor. The interaction with the chemist is also not much better . All he does is fill the prescription , but the patient is still full of unanswered questions. Why this medicine ? What are the side effects ? Is there a cheaper alternative ? The answer is usually the same – Ask your doctor !

This is an extremely unfriendly way of treating the patient, who is forced to wait ; or to use the Internet to find information , which may often be incorrect, outdated or unreliable. What a waste of the doctor’s precious time and energy . And what a wasteful use of the other healthcare personnel !

Let's look at an alternative scenario. While the patient is waiting to see the doctor, he can spend time at the clinics’ patient education resource center which has books and videos about the common clinical problems the doctor sees . At the end of the consultation, the doctor writes a prescription for information about the possible diagnosis , and the tests , scans and medicines he has advised . These are the “keywords” which the patient needs more information on. This information prescription can be filled by any healthcare worker the patient encounters during his journey through the healthcare system. All he would need to do would be to show the prescription and ask for information . The laboratory , the diagnostic center , and the pharmacy would also have a patient education resource center . These could just occupy a corner of about 50 - 100 sq ft and would have a core collection of basic books ; as well as pamphlets for the patient to take home ; and a PC or thin client with an Internet connection with links to reliable websites. If the patient needs help , a staff member would help them find the relevant information.

Patient education should not be seen to be an expense. It is actually an integral part of patient service; and also offers the clinic , the laboratory and the diagnostic center a great way of marketing their services. Anyone who takes the time and energy to educate the patient is likely to create a lot of good will and get repeat customers. It also creates increased brand awareness in the community, as reliable health information is highly valued by patients and family members.

We all know that medicines play an important role in helping patients get better , which is why doctors prescribe them routinely . Information has an equally important role to play in medical treatment, and needs to be routinely prescribed and dispensed. This is an extremely cost-effective way of improving patient satisfaction and patient compliance.

1 comment:

  1. I like your idea of the "clinics’ patient education resource center". So many patients do online research before or after a doctor's visit - or instead - and it would be great if this was better supported by a doctor's office. I am curious your reaction to http://lisaneal.wordpress.com/2008/03/07/the-disconnect-between-patients-and-doctors/

    ReplyDelete

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