Patient Education Mistakes

Five Patient Education Mistakes You May Be Making


When it comes to patient education, it’s not a case of “offer it, and they will learn.” If patients aren’t aware of your materials, can’t access them easily, can’t understand them due to language or literacy barriers, or don’t find them relevant, you will never get the results you want. Here’s a look at some basic mistakes many doctors make in educating their patients, and what you can do to fix them.

  • Your patient education materials focus on the wrong conditions. Suppose you offer great information about, say, sinusitis and TMJ. That’s great, unless the majority of your patients are actually interested in snoring and hearing loss. Think about your patient population. What are the most common, complex, and costly conditions your practice treats? Are there particular things you and your staff find yourselves explaining over and over? Focusing on these topics will allow you to better target your patient education programs to your patients’ actual needs.
  • You assume you know what patients need. Of course, you can’t get a good handle on what your patients need unless you ask them. For instance, you may assume that parents of your pediatric tonsillectomy patients want information about the procedure itself, when really they want to know how best to care for their child post-op. Ask patients directly or circulate a poll or questionnaire in your waiting room or via email to find out what types of information they would find most helpful.
  • You talk more than you listen. A recent report from health care advertising company CDMiConnect found that on average, patients spend six minutes of face-time with their doctors during appointments. Think you don’t have time for patient education in that short window? You won’t if you spend the whole time talking instead of listening to why your patient is there. One study found that patients were interrupted by providers just 12 seconds after they started speaking. Listen long enough to understand what information they need from you.
  • You assume patients understand and remember what you tell them. Don’t think that just because you tell patients to use a neti pot, they will know what that means and follow through. Show them. Say, “Have you seen our new video on nasal irrigation on our Facebook page? Look, all our videos are under this tab. Click here, and this will walk you through it. Here, I’m emailing you a link right now so you won’t forget when you get home.” Data shows that 40 to 80 percent of medical information provided by health care practitioners is forgotten immediately.

    Another key to successful patient education materials is making sure they can be understood by the 47 percent of the U.S. population that demonstrates low levels of literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Simpler is better.

  • You are trying to reinvent the wheel. Most doctors know that basic, boring patient education materials — the kind that may come with your EHR software, for instance — don’t cut it. But attempting DIY materials can be time-consuming, costly, and complicated. With so many good patient education programs and options available nowadays, there’s no reason you need to start from scratch. Many software programs allow you to customize videos or handouts to tailor them to your practice and your patients.

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