Monday, April 22, 2013

The Benefits of Informed, Empowered Patients

By E'Louise Ondash, RN

It seems like such a common sense conclusion – a “duh moment” if you will – but I’m glad, nonetheless, that someone did a survey to prove what we already knew: Knowledge is power.

In this case, we are talking about patients and a 2012 survey which queried more than 1,000 low-income California residents about the health information they receive from their providers and how it makes them feel. The results: Respondents said that the more information they have about their health care issues and the more they understand, the more empowered and involved they feel.

I think I’m seeing a trend here.

In my last blog, I wrote about how some health care institutions have done a great job in making health literacy among their patients a priority. Now we have a poll telling us that focusing on health literacy pays off when it comes to getting patients involved in their care.

I’m willing to bet that improved health literacy and patient involvement improve facilities’ outcomes and bottom lines, as well. And aren’t favorable outcomes what it’s all about?

Yes, high-tech diagnostics, devices and drugs are certainly wondrous and deserve their fair share of recognition, but there is something to be said for low-tech, hands-on, people-powered, patient-centered care. Though relatively low-cost when compared with technology, building health literacy and feelings of empowerment can go a long way in eliminating the errors and misunderstandings that drive up health care costs.

Perhaps one of the most telling stats from the report, issued by the Institute of Medicine, is that a full one-third of those who admitted to not following a provider’s advice or instructions did so because they didn’t understand. This points to one of the most important aspects of patient care for nurses: it’s important to assure that the patient and/or family understands instructions while receiving treatment or before leaving the clinical area.

Given today’s climate of having to do more with less, nurses face extra challenges when it comes to patient education. But can we afford not to meet these challenges? It also may be up to nurses to remind, emphasize, educate and illustrate to administrators the importance of having the resources and time to devote to teaching patients. This will become more important than ever as the population ages.

An analysis of this survey also found that feeling involved and confident about playing a role in their care is a better predictor of patients’ quality of engagement than factors such as choice of health care facility, level of academic education, income, gender and first language.

This tells me that dollars spent on nurses makes more sense than dollars spent on marketing.

An earlier analysis of this survey, which was conducted by Langer Research Associates and funded by the Blue Shield of California Foundation, found that low-income California residents also want a greater connection with their health care providers.

Have you had any experiences that illustrate the importance of patient education and engagement?

Do you feel you have enough time to devote to patient education and literacy?

Tell us about it.

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