Insights From Our Editors

What Is the Best Way to Educate Patients in the Exam Room?

By Mark Wright, OD, FCOVD,
and Carole Burns, OD, FCOVD

May 25 2022

Patients benefit when they fully understand their diagnosis and treatment plan. Here is how to improve your exam-room conversations to facilitate better patient outcomes.

Communication with patients is an issue we need to think more about since it drives outcomes. First, let’s define communication. True communication occurs when you have transferred what is in your mind to what is in the patient’s mind with the same understanding.

Communication is more than just telling a patient something. Think about all the information that we dump on a patient during an examination. No one can retain, in a meaningful way, all of that information. It’s just too much.

So, what do you do to try to help the patient understand more of what was said? In the “old days” we used to have hundreds of pamphlets on different topics in the office. We would give the most appropriate pamphlets to patients to take home to reinforce what we thought was the most important information.

Then, we graduated to packets. We took folders and filled them with inserts focusing on the most important information. We created packets for refractive surgery, cataract surgery, vision therapy, corneal refractive therapy, low vision, glaucoma and so on.

After that came videos. We had videos patients could watch while in the office. Some of these videos were professionally created by vendors and others were “homemade.” Some videos were made to be viewed before the exam and others after the exam based on the diagnosis and treatment plan.

In today’s world we have graduated to digital information which resides on the practice website or other websites. Websites containing information and/or links to other websites is easy to set up. “On our website for the practice, go to the section about corneal refractive therapy and you will find resources to help you understand this topic” is an easy sentence to add to your case presentation. But that requires a patient to initiate an action.

A better approach is for the doctor in the exam room to tell a patient, “I’m sending to your e-mail (or phone) three links I want you to view about the three things I just told you.” Patients are more likely to follow this approach than to go to your website to view the same information. The easier you make it for the patient, the more compliance you will see.

Remember how this article started? Communication only occurs when the patient understands what was in your mind. Research shows that the only way you can be sure patients understand the same way you do is to ask the patient to repeat back to you in their own words what you were trying to communicate to them.

Modern medicine uses this approach in-office. Doctors (or team members) have patients read or view resources then repeat back their understanding of what was read or viewed. This improves communication and, therefore, improves outcomes.

Take this week to review what systems you are using in your practice to communicate with patients, then identify what changes you need to make to improve your patient communications.

Your take-away from this article is Improved Communications = Improved Outcomes.

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