Using Technology to Educate Patients

Robby Gupta

Over the years, there has been a transformation in how patients are educated about their own diseases and treatment. Earlier, patients were dependent on doctors and healthcare staff for the information related to their health. But today, they have a say being an equal stakeholder in the treatment process.

Patient education is a process in which health practitioners and staff share the necessary knowledge or skill with patients that helps them to manage their health more effectively. Fundamentally, it is about letting patients know what they need to, for example, signs and symptoms they should be aware of, and whom to reach out to, in case of a problem or just a clarification.

It has been found that when patients and their families are well-informed about the illness and treatment, they’re more involved in the procedure. And hence there is a better likelihood of fewer readmissions, reduced patient anxiety and shorter treatment cycle.

Needs for patient education

Traditionally, most of the patients had to rely on doctors or medical staff for the answers to their health-related questions. And even this possibility was eliminated to moment they left hospital or clinic. The situation was even worse in the case where a patient had undergone a surgery. He/she would be clueless about the nature of ailment and the required follow-up care.

But the pattern is changing now. Providers have understood that sending the patients back with a leaflet with care instructions is not going to work anymore.

Besides, doctors, clinicians and medical staff are no longer the only sources of information for patients. Evolution of technology has brought along the novel way of learning. Access to medical information is easier than ever. Technology has several options that empower patients to stay updated on their health-related information and participate actively in every course of treatment.

Here are a few of them.

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Websites and forums

Patients like to be more informed today that they ever were. Most of them prefer to do their research beforehand prior to visiting a physician or undergoing a treatment. For them, there is a huge volume of medical knowledge available on the internet which they can easily access. It’s because there are numerous websites that provide patients with information related to a wide range of diseases.

Many websites even have dedicated forums and group. Patients can join these forums to interact with other members. They can share their experiences and learn from those of others who are suffering from the same medical condition. This way, they get to learn from each other and get a much-needed support system.

Patient engagement portals

Patient engagement portals have been instrumental in transforming the patient-doctor relationship and making it more than generic transactions.

A health portal is a great source of education for patients. They can refer to it to access their medical records, pathological report, clinical notes, treatment history etc. Patients find it easier to interact with providers using the portal, learn more about their health and work with doctors to achieve better outcomes of treatment.

Healthcare organizations are exploring ways in which they can integrate patient engagement IT solutions with these portals to deliver an enhanced experience to patients.

3D printing

While a medical professional is aware of what a certain medical condition looks like and whether it’s benign or threatening, it’s well beyond the understanding of most patients. 3D printed models provide a better clarity on complex anatomy.

3D models let the patients get a fair idea of how organs such as kidney, liver or even a tooth look like and how a condition affects them. A 3D print also provides them with an accurate visualization of the condition and prepares them to make informed decisions regarding their treatment plans.

Interactive tools

Interactive technology has started to receive a lot of focus from healthcare provider community in terms of patient education. Patients are using interactive educational tools to learn through simple yet engaging visuals like diagrams, illustrations, animation and videos. This is further improving their interaction with their physicians.

Physicians have very little time at hand to consult and update their patients with reliable information. Therefore, interactive tools are not just helpful but slowly becoming a need.

Besides encouraging patients to self-learn on the go, interactive education tools can further help a patient bring down his treatment costs.

Medical apps

Medical and healthcare apps are powerful mobile solutions to improve patient engagement. Now, providers are using them as educational resources to communicate with patients and train them on human anatomy, medical conditions and related treatments.

Read: App Development in Healthcare: Potential Challenges and How to Address Them

Patients can use apps to learn about the first-aid procedure in case of an emergency such as accidents, asthma attacks, cardiac arrest etc.

There are certain apps that allow the patients to access their medical records while following a personalized fitness course. Then there is a medical app which patients can use to search for information on various illnesses, their treatments and medication. It can even recommend drug dosage and inform about associated side-effects.

Chatbots

Shortage of human resource, pressure to keep costs low and the need for automation is making the use of chatbots ubiquitous in businesses. And healthcare holds no exception.

In addition to performing diverse tasks, chatbots are proving an efficacious first-line educational support for patients. Powered by machine learning, chatbots are able to provide personalized responses to generic queries of patients regarding a disease, symptoms, diet, health management etc. They can even be an excellent source of motivation for patients.

At a time when there is a dearth of quality time between patients and healthcare professionals, chatbots can really be a scalable source of patient education.

Read: How Technology Is Shaping Home Healthcare And Elder Care

Virtual reality

Providers can leverage virtual reality to let patients visualize the consequences that may occur if they ignore their health. While life is unpredictable, VR can give them insights into the future as to what their health status would be, based on the health choices they make.

Thus, VR is an effective means of conveying the right messaging to patients. It can influence them to make positive incremental changes in lifestyle and behavior to mitigate health risks in the future. For example, VR can take patients through a 3D tour of their anatomy and help them see the observations of their doctor.

Augmented reality

AR is a giant leap in the domain of healthcare technology. By projecting digital information on a real environment, it gives the patient a better visibility of rather complex processes, when compared to 2D diagrams. Various studies have suggested that multi-sensory experience facilitates a more efficient learning process.

AR equips patients with a precise understanding of how a particular disease impacts health, or how specific medicine works. Obviously, instead of reading a complex text of description on a drug bottle, patients will learn better from a three-dimensional diagram showing how the drug works inside the body and contributes to the treatment process.

Conclusion

Patient education has a considerable role to play in healthcare. When patients are educated, the doctor-patient communication improves. This enables both to make more informed and accurate decisions pertaining to treatment, establishing an efficient care delivery model.

Patient education is a crucial objective of healthcare providers and they have gradually started to utilize technology to impart that education. In days to come, it will be a strategic differentiator as patients will start to look for the provider who can address their medical concerns in the best manner.

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about the author

Robby Gupta

Robby Gupta is the head of US operations for TechJini, Inc. He has had varied experiences working in New York, Cupertino, and Bangalore with packaged & amp; custom web and mobile app development for an assortment of industries. His current focus is Immersive Technologies, IoT, AI bots and their applications in the digital enterprise.