As the 2020 election approaches, our healthcare system will take center stage once again, highlighting how the medical field can continue to improve quality moving forward. Patient education will be vital to this effort and offers a force for good that providers, patients, payers, and politicians can all support. Not only is patient education the right thing to do, but the changing healthcare landscape requires it.
Patient education is the process by which healthcare professionals equip patients with information. This information may regard their health status, diseases or conditions, and self-management or treatment options. It requires more than offering pamphlets in the waiting room. Providers must spend time with patients and ensure that crucial information can be accurately reflected back to them (see how telemedicine can play a role as well). When patients leave, they should have an understanding of what to expect (eg, symptoms, when to seek medical care), as well as how to best care for themselves. As healthcare quality standards increase, patient education is an important vehicle for HCPs who want to improve outcomes, manage costs, and inform patients.
Even though the healthcare quality movement has been underway for decades, our “sick care” model remains a political talking point. Payers have refined their focus, using data to reduce waste, which research suggests accounts for 25% of healthcare spending. Through this lens, the redefinition of quality necessitates patient education.
As the healthcare industry embraces data to track performance, providers are being held accountable for publicly shared quality metrics that promote transparency for all involved. Patient education has been proven to improve outcomes, which help achieve quality goals imposed by healthcare systems, payers, and employers alike. This knowledge may be why we are seeing an increase in HCPs dedicated to patient education. From case managers to lactation specialists, these specialized staff members increase touchpoints to engage with and to educate patients. The importance of patient education is so widely recognized that even health insurance plans now hire RNs and other health professionals to support this need.
Patient education establishes a true partnership between providers and patients. It increases compliance, which improves outcomes, enhances patients’ quality of life, prevents unnecessary hospitalizations, and reduces overall costs. Education efforts that aim to increase self-care also increase self-efficacy, which improves clinical outcomes.
Providers today are faced with a new reality: produce results or lose patients. Healthcare quality measures are more sophisticated than ever. Emerging technology aggregates data to evaluate quality from both health system and patient perspectives. In fact, employers such as Walmart are investing in software to quantify provider quality and reduce unnecessary healthcare costs. These programs steer patients toward preferred providers based on their metrics, and patient education can help to ensure high-quality scores.
Quality scores are not new to the healthcare industry. Medicare’s Physician Feedback Program was introduced in 2008 and expanded by the Affordable Care Act. This new application of data to quantify quality set the stage for the Quality Payment Program,which modifies payments to providers based on performance measures (eg, cost, meaningful use). In short, providers must employ interventions that improve outcomes, such as patient education, to get paid.
Becoming an informed healthcare consumer is no longer just an attractive option. It’s a necessity. While employers’ healthcare costs have steadily increased, the growing prevalence of high-deductible health plans have caused out-of-pocket spending to rise dramatically for American consumers. Spending on deductibles increased by 176% between 2006 and 2016. Patient education ensures every dollar is well spent by reducing unnecessary spending and improving quality.
To achieve the benefits of healthcare education, providers must learn to maximize every interaction with every patient. Even wellness visits are an education opportunity. This process begins in the waiting room, with educational materials and pamphlets; continues during intake and examination; and concludes with a wrap-up, from either the provider or another healthcare professional. HCPs who are strapped for time should consider turning to additional staff members, such as registered nurses, to help educate patients.
Mariano’s VEMA model creates structure for conversations with patients, as follows: