Patient Education: Handouts Aren’t The Answer

A lawyer friend of mine told me a funny story about a client’s take on what is wrong with the healthcare system. He belongs to an HMO that has clinical centers.  The doctors work for the center which is owned by the insurance company. The client said he views the current healthcare system in the following illustration.

If I go to the clinic office for a broken leg, I will probably be given a handout on how to walk better, told to go to physical therapy,  take Advil and call if its not better.

I laughed when I heard this because although most medical professionals would probably do more, there is a perception by patients that they are not being listened to.  There is also the feeling that being ill is some how their fault and need to take responsibility for whatever is the problem.

I also laughed when I thought about the handout.  How often do we as medical professionals give handouts with what we think is critical information.  Think of the emergency room discharge sheets.  DO people read it and does it make sense to them?

I have been with people day surgery post op and the nurse is reviewing the discharge information.  It is hard enough for me to follow, let alone someone just out of anesthesia.  I have also found most discharge people don’t like to be asked too many questions.  The response is usually, it is all in the paper.  Hospitals have gotten better about calling the next day to make sure all is well.

There is a strong push in healthcare to make the patient more responsible for their care.  It is called prevention.  The idea is with enough education, patients will make the right choices for their health.  As we know, human behavior is not easy to change.

The problem arises with, what forms of education work?  I dare say, handouts don’t work for many.  People have different styles of learning.  Dr Howard Gardner of Harvard School of Education developed the idea of multiple intelligences.  This theory is built on the idea that people learn in seven different ways and education needs to reflect the different styles.  The seven learning styles are: visual or spatial, bodily -kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic and logical-mathematical.  The point is learning does not occur the same for everyone or is the manner in which information is absorbed.

I think if healthcare is going to move towards prevention and education clients then there needs to be a discussion on the best ways to accomplish this.  If patients are going to expected to be more involved and responsible in their healthcare then  the medical community has to take responsibility for providing  educational experiences that work.  Handouts are not the answer.