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Patient education: Why patient education matters and how it improves outcomes

Here are the top 5 reasons patient education matters for your practice — plus 7 patient education examples to support engagement and improve outcomes.

Physician educates a patient with patient education examples

At a Glance

  • Patient education is vital for practices to improve health outcomes, increase patient satisfaction and engagement, and optimize operations under value-based care models.
  • Effective patient education strategies like customizing materials, using the teach-back method, and encouraging questions can improve health literacy and empower patients to manage their health.
  • Implementing patient education across multiple formats allows practices to boost efficiency, reduce physician burnout, and build stronger patient-provider relationships.

When your schedule is packed and you’re already running behind, it’s easy to understand how patient education can quickly become an afterthought.

Yet, the importance of patient education, particularly for independent medical practices, cannot be overstated. As the healthcare industry shifts towards a more patient-centric model, the role of patient education in enhancing patient engagement and health outcomes — and optimizing operations for independent medical practices — has become increasingly vital. 

A 2022 patient survey indicates just how critical patient education is to improving both patient care and outcomes:

  • Almost 50% of respondents reported that they did not get all their questions answered.
  • ​​80% of respondents often or sometimes had follow-up questions.

The same survey found that 68% of patients who receive patient education are more likely to return to a healthcare provider. Meanwhile, 80% of respondents reported that patient education would increase their satisfaction with their care. 

Patient education supports access to high-quality care. It controls overall healthcare spending and improves patient literacy and outcomes. It also allows patients to partner with their doctors in their healthcare journey.

In today’s healthcare market, patient education is not just a tool for patient empowerment and improved healthcare outcomes. It's also a strategic component in optimizing operations for independent medical practices. 

This article explores the top 5 operational reasons patient education matters to your practice. It outlines 5 tips for improvement and 7 patient education examples and strategies. These will help guide your practice in empowering patients and optimizing practice operations. 

Optimize Operations

5 reasons patient education improves outcomes in healthcare operations

Read on to discover how patient education impacts your practice’s operations and patient outcomes.

1. Health literacy improves outcomes in medical clinics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes a distinction between personal and organizational health literacy: 

  • Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
  • Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.

Patients with higher levels of health literacy are better equipped to understand their medical conditions. They also better understand their treatment options and the importance of following medical advice. This understanding is crucial for managing chronic illnesses, adhering to treatment plans, recognizing symptoms, and taking preventive measures. As a result, these patients often experience better health outcomes.

Patient education empowers patients and is also a strategic component in optimizing operations for independent medical practices. ”

Private medical practices must prioritize their own organizational health literacy. This way, you can ensure that you are able to meet the healthcare education needs of their patients. Remember, patient education is an interactive process that balances desired patient behavior, priorities, and expectations.

Make sure your practice education includes plain language that anyone can understand. Keep in mind that patient barriers to learning are a complex mix. Factors include culture, values, beliefs, current worries or preconceived notions, motivation, and literacy.

2. Patient education impacts value-based reimbursement programs

Unless your practice operates under a direct pay model, patient education has a direct impact on your bottom line. Initiatives like the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) and Quality Payment Program demonstrate the system-wide shift toward linking reimbursements to patient outcomes and satisfaction. This shift makes effective patient education crucial to the financial health of independent practices. 

When patients are well-informed about their conditions, treatment plans, and the importance of adherence to prescribed regimens, they are more likely to report and experience positive health outcomes. This improvement in patient health directly impacts the metrics used to determine physician reimbursement. This is because better patient outcomes often result in enhanced reimbursement rates under value-based reimbursement models

Educated patients are more likely to avoid preventable complications and hospital readmissions. ”

Moreover, educated patients are more likely to avoid preventable complications and hospital readmissions. These are often key factors in avoiding financial penalties and securing higher reimbursement rates.

Patient education also helps improve patient satisfaction scores, which are sometimes used in calculating reimbursement. Satisfied patients are more likely to rate their care positively, which then positively influences physician reimbursement rates. 

Patient education can also lead to more efficient use of healthcare resources, indirectly affecting physician reimbursement. Well-informed patients are less likely to use emergency services for non-emergent issues. They are more likely to choose appropriate care settings and adhere to treatment plans. This reduces unnecessary healthcare spending. 

This efficient resource utilization is particularly important in bundled payment models and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), where cost savings are shared among providers. By minimizing unnecessary expenditures through patient education, physicians can benefit from shared savings programs, enhancing their overall reimbursement. 

3. Patient education improves patient engagement

For many people, effective patient education bolsters their willingness and ability to navigate complex healthcare situations. This can lead to enhanced health outcomes. Throughout the patient care continuum, informed and educated patients typically report better satisfaction and quality of life. As a result, this aligns with the core objectives of value-based healthcare.

For example, education prior to appointments can demystify the process and inform patients about what to anticipate. This way, they can prepare mentally, emotionally, and physically. This, in turn, can diminish anxiety and confusion and help facilitate a smoother and more streamlined patient experience. Patient education following appointments is also crucial for ensuring proper follow-up, treatment compliance, and minimizing complications. 

Patient education also contributes to higher patient satisfaction scores, which are sometimes used in calculating reimbursement. ”

Providing essential information such as billing details, operational hours, and general procedure guidelines through automated answering services can help streamline the experience. It also saves patients both time and money. This approach enables patients to access basic information and carry out straightforward tasks without needing to directly engage with healthcare providers or administrators. This enhances their experience before and after receiving care.

4. Patient education can optimize resources

In independent practices, educating patients plays a crucial role in optimizing resources and enabling physicians and their teams to provide efficient and high-quality care while managing their limited resources effectively. In private practices, where the allocation of time, staff, and financial resources requires careful balance, patient education emerges as a key strategy for enhancing overall efficiency and patient care quality.

Well-informed patients place fewer demands on a practice's time and resources. When patients understand their health conditions, treatment plans, and the importance of compliance, they are more likely to follow prescribed regimens, reducing the frequency of visits for preventable complications. 

Proper education also helps reduce call-backs by patients. The best physicians will anticipate questions and provide answers even before the patient can ask them. This efficient use of appointment slots allows private practices to manage patient flow more effectively. This helps ensure that each visit is as productive as possible. 

In turn, a streamlined patient flow reduces the strain on limited staff resources. Fewer unnecessary appointments and follow-ups will be needed. This allows the practice to focus on new or more complex cases that require in-depth attention.

Patient Perspectives Report

Additional benefits of patient education

Patient education can also lead to more effective use of diagnostic and treatment resources. Educated patients are better at recognizing early symptoms and understanding when to seek medical attention. This can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment. 

Furthermore, educated patients are more likely to engage in preventative care measures to begin with. As a result, this decreases the incidences of acute episodes requiring urgent attention. Proper patient education can also help minimize the need for unnecessary tests or procedures.

Patient education can play a significant role in reducing no-shows and last-minute cancellations, which are also a significant resource drain. ”

Patient education in private medical practices can play a significant role in reducing no-shows and last-minute cancellations, which are also a significant resource drain. When patients understand the importance of their appointments and what to expect, they are more likely to keep these appointments. This predictability in scheduling helps the practice plan and allocate resources more efficiently, reducing idle time and allowing for better financial and operational planning. 

Patient education also bolsters patient follow-up and builds practice volume. Some patients need to be reminded how important it is for them to return for appointments to monitor certain conditions and aid in preventative care. For example, some patients need better follow-up for diabetic foot conditions since they can't self-assess problems accurately.

5. Patient education can alleviate physician burnout

Strong patient education can help combat physician burnout, especially in private medical practice settings. Physicians in private practice often face unique challenges, including managing administrative duties and providing personalized patient care, all while maintaining a sustainable business model. By improving patient education, these healthcare professionals can indirectly alleviate some of the stressors associated with their roles, leading to a healthier work-life balance.

For starters, better-informed patients tend to require less intensive guidance for routine health issues, making them more self-reliant in managing their health. This shift can significantly reduce the frequency and duration of consultations. 

Better-informed patients tend to require less intensive guidance for routine health issues, making them more self-reliant in managing their health. ”

When patients have a clear understanding of their health conditions and treatment plans, they are less likely to need frequent appointments for minor concerns. This not only improves patient outcomes but results in physicians carrying a more manageable patient load and allowing physicians to prioritize between patients who need to be evaluated immediately and those who can wait.

Effective patient education also enhances the quality of patient-physician communication. In a private practice, where building long-term patient relationships is key, effective communication is essential. 

This type of communication is a two-way street. The physician needs to know what is happening with patients with active problems, and education can help a patient become a more thorough and reliable historian. 

When patients are educated about their health, discussions become more focused and productive, saving time and allowing for deeper, more meaningful consultations. This can increase job satisfaction for physicians, as they are able to spend more time on complex cases that require their expertise and less on explaining basic information over and over again. 

5 tips for effective patient education

Maximize the impact of your patient education efforts by following these best practices:

1. Customize educational material

Tailoring educational materials at your private medical practice is essential for enhancing patient understanding, engagement, and outcomes. Customized education respects individual patient needs and preferences, as well as their background, making it more effective in promoting health literacy.

Analyze the demographics of your patient population, including age, cultural background, literacy levels, and language preferences. Educational and patient forms should be available in Spanish in all practices. This will allow you to select or create materials that resonate with your patients. 

Older patients might prefer printed brochures or large-print materials, while younger patients might engage better with digital content such as emails or interactive apps. ”

For instance, older patients might prefer printed brochures or large-print materials, while younger patients might engage better with digital content such as emails or interactive apps.

Ensure that educational materials are culturally sensitive and appropriate. This includes not only translating materials into different languages but also considering cultural beliefs, norms, and values that might affect how patients perceive their health and treatment.

2. Use the patient teach-back method

Ensure that all staff members, including nurses and administrative personnel, are trained in the teach-back method. This is a communication strategy that involves asking patients to repeat back the information in their own words to confirm their understanding. 

After explaining a diagnosis, treatment plan, or self-care instructions, ask the patient to explain the information back in their own words. For example, “I’ve given you a lot of information about managing your diabetes; can you tell me how you plan to change your diet based on what we discussed?”

Use the teach-back method in a way that doesn’t make the patient feel tested or patronized. ”

Use the teach-back method in a way that doesn’t make the patient feel tested or patronized. Frame it as a way to ensure that you explained things clearly. 

Be aware of cultural differences in communication and understanding, and tailor your approach to be respectful and clear. And remember, it may be necessary to make adjustments based on patient response or changes in learning needs. 

It is important to avoid the Socratic method with patients. Patients don't want to be challenged. They don't want an argument. They just want to be taken care of.

3. Show empathy to increase patient motivation

By showing empathy, healthcare professionals can significantly enhance patient motivation. Patients who feel understood and supported are more likely to be engaged in their care, adhere to treatment plans, and be proactive about their health. This not only leads to better health outcomes but also fosters a stronger patient-provider relationship, which is at the heart of effective healthcare.

When a patient speaks, listen attentively without interrupting. This conveys respect and genuine interest in their concerns. Use open body language — face the patient, maintain eye contact, and nod to show understanding. This non-verbal communication can make patients feel heard and valued. 

By showing empathy, healthcare professionals can significantly enhance patient motivation. ”

Finally, recognize and acknowledge the patient's feelings and never dismiss or downplay patients' worries or fears. Use phrases such as,  “It sounds like this has been a really challenging time for you.” 

At the same time, providers and staff may need to guide or focus the patient’s description. If the patient is off track and talking about the weather, it’s important to show empathy and redirect the patient to focus on their health needs.

Pay special attention to any conversation or greetings with patients outside of the closed exam room. Other patients may listen and take note of everything that is being said to other patients and will repeat them to the doctors or staff. Patients may compare themselves and their treatment to other patients, so be cautious about what is said out in the open.

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4. Plan for ongoing education and follow-up

Regular follow-ups and continuous education reinforce the information provided and keep patients engaged in their healthcare journey. 

Since medical information and best practices evolve constantly, plan to regularly review and update your educational materials to ensure they are current and evidence-based. This also provides an opportunity to refresh the materials based on new insights or feedback from patients.

5. Encourage questions 

Finally, work with your team to create an environment where patients feel comfortable asking questions and know that they should not leave an appointment unless they have all the information they need. 

Ask, 'What questions do you have?' instead of 'Do you have any questions?' to imply that questions are expected and welcomed. ”

Encourage this by asking, “What questions do you have?” instead of “Do you have any questions?” to imply that questions are expected and welcomed.

Prepare a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers for patients. Some patients don't know what to ask and are appreciative of being warned about frequent occurrences.

7 patient education examples and strategies to try at your practice

Since people learn in different ways, consider providing patient education resources in a variety of formats and settings. 

1. Printed educational materials 

Brochures, pamphlets, and booklets are a great way to provide your patients and their families with information to explain their health conditions, treatment options, procedure protocols, and even prevention self-care instructions. These materials should be written in clear, accessible language. 

In fact, 68% of patients in a Tebra survey preferred health information in brochures or printed materials, followed by posters or charts (22%), and YouTube videos (19%). 

68% of patients in a Tebra survey preferred health information in brochures or printed materials, followed by posters or charts (22%), and YouTube videos (19%). ”

For patients who don’t speak English, it’s important to provide information in the patient’s native language whenever possible. If your practice serves a large number of patients who speak a particular language, having resources printed in that language can go a long way toward building trust within the community and improving health outcomes. Ensure that all materials comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are accessible for people with visual impairments. 

2. Digital resources 

Websites, mobile apps, and online videos offer an interactive and engaging way for patients to learn about their health conditions. 

Once you identify digital resources that you like, consider sending patients a link that directs them to these resources or host them on your own practice website or patient portal. Encourage patients to sign up for the portal so they can easily access their health records, educational materials, and other resources.

Again, ensure that all digital materials are ADA-compliant.

3. Group education sessions 

Consider offering workshops or classes for groups of patients with similar conditions, such as diabetes management classes, prenatal courses, or smoking cessation programs.

Group education sessions not only enhance patient knowledge and self-management skills but also contribute to building a supportive community among patients. By addressing both the educational and emotional needs of patients, these sessions play a vital role in comprehensive healthcare.

Group education sessions enhance patient knowledge and self-management skills and also contribute to building a supportive community among patients. ”

Since these sessions cost time and money and can be challenging to manage, consider partnering with pharmaceutical companies or local hospitals. It is important to avoid any sales or marketing and to make sure education is the sole reason for patients to show up, though.

4. Health fairs and public health campaigns 

Like group sessions, these events provide a great opportunity to disseminate health information broadly and can target specific health awareness topics, like heart health, cancer prevention, or mental health.

Partner with other public health agencies, other providers, nursing or medical training institutions, local businesses, or non-profit organizations to conduct educational outreach at local senior centers, nursing homes, schools, colleges, civic organizations, or even workplace health centers.

5. Demonstrations and hands-on training 

For patients needing to learn new skills, such as injecting insulin, using an inhaler, changing dressings, or administering injectable medications, conducting hands-on demonstrations and practice sessions can be an invaluable strategy to ensure that patients truly understand the teaching they’ve received. 

Invest in anatomical models, supplies, and other medical tools to provide a tangible understanding of the medical conditions and treatments your practice frequently demonstrates. For example, a model of the human spine can be used to explain back problems and demonstrate corrective exercises. 

Thoroughly training staff members empowers them to lead patients in the proper direction. ”

Don't neglect education and training sessions for office staff and other providers in your practice. Thoroughly training staff members empowers them to lead patients in the proper direction, ask physicians focused questions, and provide valuable feedback. Physicians will have a better comfort level as to what their patients are being taught, while patients know that the entire staff has an interest in their healthcare.

A special note about equipment in the office: Staff need to be trained on the care and use of the equipment. Patients will ask questions about their equipment, and it’s important for staff to be able to educate patients about equipment and allay their fears.

6. Email and text message reminders 

Automated text reminders about medication schedules, upcoming appointments, or general health tips can help patients adhere to their treatment plans.

Sending concise, timely reminders for appointments, medication schedules, or follow-up care instructions allows practices to maintain consistent communication with patients without overburdening staff. Moreover, the personalization capabilities of these reminders mean they can be tailored to individual patient needs, reinforcing the practice’s commitment to patient-centered care. 

Discover how Tebra’s text messaging platform makes communication easy and seamless for your patients and staff.

7. Social media campaigns 

Social media campaigns provide a dynamic platform for private medical practices to engage with their patient community and promote health education. Using social media channels allows practices to share informative content, wellness tips, and updates about services. 

These campaigns can spotlight success stories, health awareness events, and preventive care measures, fostering a sense of community and trust. Visual content, such as infographics or short video clips, can effectively convey health information and engage a wider audience. 

Using social media channels allows practices to share informative content, wellness tips, and updates about services. ”

Encouraging patient participation by soliciting questions or sharing experiences or resources through designated hashtags can further amplify the impact of these campaigns. By leveraging the reach and interactive nature of social media, private practices can cultivate a stronger online presence, educate their patient base, and ultimately contribute to better community health.

Patient education improves outcomes and helps optimize your operations

Whether you implement one or many of these patient education strategies, make sure that the teaching you provide is accessible, understandable, and relevant to the needs of the people in your care. 

Learn more about our suite of solutions for independent practices that improve the patient experience and optimize your operations.

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Kate Smith, RN BSN

Kate Smith, RN BSN, is a writer and registered nurse with extensive experience caring for patients in urban emergency departments, private practices, in-home hospice settings, and on cruise ships around the world.

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Drew Sutton

Dr. Drew Sutton is a board-certified ENT physician. He has vast experience in treating all aspects of ENT, with particular interests in disorders of the ear and nasal and sinus disease. During his career, he started and managed an independent, single-specialty medical practice in a large metropolitan area.

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