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Educating Your Patients
Creating Effective Patient Education in Your Practice

undefinedCreating an effective patient education program in your practice may seem time-consuming at first, but once in place, it can save you time and trouble.1 And you don’t have to start from scratch—there are many materials available to get you started.

Talking with Your Patients

Good communication with your patients is the cornerstone of effective patient education. In one study, patients were asked about the most important aspects of receiving bad health news. This is what they said was important to them:

  • The doctor takes time to answer all of their questions.
  • The doctor is honest about the severity of their conditions.
  • The doctor gives them enough time to ask all of their questions.
  • The doctor gives them his or her full attention.6

Quality is more important than quantity. In a study on the doctor/patient relationship, patients who were satisfied after a visit tended to overestimate the time their doctor actually spent with them. In contrast, patients who were dissatisfied complained that the doctor seemed in a hurry, even when visits were long.7

Spending more time with patients may also reduce the likelihood of malpractice claims.1 Although poor treatment outcome is the primary cause of malpractice actions, poor communication actually is at the root of about 75 percent of cases. A good physician-patient relationship might deter patients from suing even in situations where medical error causes a problem.2,8

Using Print Materials

A study from the Journal of Hypertension showed patients quickly forget about 40 percent of what physicians tell them.9 To overcome this problem, give patients written explanations of their conditions and treatments.

In the field of ophthalmology, physicians have a unique challenge when choosing written patient education materials. Not only do you need to look for materials containing trusted content, but you also have to make sure the materials are suitable for people with visual impairments. When choosing printed materials, consider the following:

Font styles and sizes. Choose materials with font sizes large enough for people with visual impairments to adequately see and read the information. Avoid materials with busy font styles, all capital letters or italics.
Use of illustrations and images. Use illustrations to complement textual descriptions. This helps patients gain a clearer idea of what is occurring in their eyes.
Use of color. Choose materials with colors that have good contrast and are easy on the eyes. Dark text on light backgrounds (black on white) is easier to read than light text on dark backgrounds (white on black).
Tone and clarity. Use materials that present information in a clear and understandable manner using a pleasant, friendly and respectful tone.
Literacy Levels. Forty-four percent of people age 65 and older read at about the fifth grade level or less. Another 30 percent read between the fifth- and eighth-grade levels.10 For older adults, choose easy-to-read materials written in plain language, familiar words and short sentences.

Creating Your Own Print Materials

When creating your own patient education materials, you should have one goal—to make the information easy to understand. The following tips will help make your materials more effective:

  • Keep your sentences short, but not choppy.
  • Use personal pronouns (you, your) to make your patients understand how the information applies to them.
  • Use bold print to emphasize important terms and information.
  • Use bullets for important list items.
  • Use active verbs to illustrate effect. "Laser surgery reduces the risk of blindness" is more effective than "To reduce the risk of blindness, laser surgery is recommended."
  • Avoid using technical terms and language.

Using Video/DVD

In the office
Video is often more effective than traditional patient education methods in increasing short-term retention of information. One study found that using video followed by brief individual counseling actually saved physicians time without sacrificing knowledge when compared with prolonged individual counseling.11

Video should be used, however, as a supplemental part of your patient education process. Even the most well produced videos will not be effective educational tools if your patients do not have the opportunity to discuss the content with you and ask questions.

Academy patient education videos feature real patients talking openly about their feelings and experiences. This helps viewers to relate to the patients in the videos and have a better understanding of their treatment options.

As a marketing tool
Videos and DVDs can also be effective marketing tools for your practice. In Academy-produced patient education videos and DVDs, prospective patients considering elective procedures will see:

  • real patient testimonials
  • clear, easy-to-understand animated graphics illustrating the procedures; and
  • informed consent information regarding the benefits and risks of the procedures.

Videos and DVD presentations are the most comprehensive way prospective patients can preview the surgical experience. Viewing videos or DVDs can help to alleviate misconceptions, concerns and inhibitions.

A DVD player is easy to incorporate into your office setting

To determine the best type of DVD player for your office, assess whether or not you have a private space for patients to watch a DVD. To comply with HIPAA regulations, a portable DVD player offers you more flexibility than a player that hooks up to a television. With a set of headphones, patients can watch a DVD in the waiting area or in an exam room while their eyes are dilating.

A portable DVD player generally costs between $250 and $500. You should aim to purchase a portable DVD player with a screen size of at least eight inches. You’ll also want to purchase a set of headphones to use when watching the DVD.

Patient compliance continues to be one of the greatest challenges for an ophthalmologist. Showing an educational DVD offers you a convenient and cost-effective way to educate your patients more thoroughly.

Obtaining Informed Consent

According to the Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company, informed consent basically encompasses every piece of educational material your patient receives from your practice, including verbal descriptions and instructions, marketing materials, patient handouts, videos, etc. Signing the consent form is the last step in the consent process.

Before allowing your patient to sign the consent form, you should have adequately described to your patient:

  • steps of the procedure
  • benefits of the procedure
  • risks and complications involved
  • alternative treatments.

For more information about informed consent, visit

Communicating with Non-English Speaking Patients

Your patients may speak English but not read it well, especially if the information is new or complex. If your patients do not read English well, but read in their native language, you should use translated materials. If they cannot read their own language well, try alternative teaching tactics such as translated videos and/or counseling.

Even though your patients may read English, they still may prefer learning in their native language. Patients who are not comfortable with English may be less likely to read the material, even if it is important. The Center for Medicare Education recommends asking specific questions to determine language preferences, including:

  • Do you get your information from English newspapers or non-English newspapers?
  • Do you "think" in English?
  • When you read or hear something in English, do you understand it in English, or do you translate it in your mind into another language?
  • Can you understand complex or technical information in English, or would you rather read and talk about it in your native language?12

Gauging your patients' needs will improve their and your level of understanding about their conditions and reduce the potential for adverse or unexpected results.

Beyond Language Differences: Learn more about increasing cultural competency in your practice to improve patient education, communication and compliance.

Visit the online store for foreign language patient material produced by the Academy.

Learn more about Cultural Competency.

Using Your Allied Health Staff

Your allied health staff is an important component to patient education in your practice. Your staff members often have the first and last contact with your patients during a visit. This means the patient’s first and last impression of your practice is affected by the communication they receive from your staff. The ability to gain the patient’s trust and respect will aid both you and your staff in gathering necessary information for diagnosis and treatment and will help ease the patient’s concerns.13

In addition to being courteous and responsive to patients, your staff should have:

  • the basic ophthalmic knowledge to perform preliminary interviews and screenings, and
  • the ability to assess the urgency of patient complaints and schedule appointments appropriately. 4

You and your staff can learn more about patient assisting and interaction with Fundamentals of Ophthalmic Medical Assisting, a DVD produced by the Academy. It provides practical information to allied health staff for on-the-job use.

Patient Education on the Internet

There are thousands of Internet sites devoted to every imaginable health topic. Unfortunately, the information often is incomplete and requires a high reading level to understand.14 Patients relying on Internet content to make health decisions, including whether to seek care, could be negatively influenced by deficiencies of the information provided.

It is nevertheless a fact that patients will use the Internet to access information regarding their health. There are several things you can do to counteract the possible negative effects of the Internet on patient education.

  1. Give your patients the information they’re looking for. Ask your patients if their questions have been adequately answered, and make sure they have printed or written copies of important explanations and instructions. Encourage your patients to talk about conflicting information they find.
  2. Recommend reliable Internet sites. There are ophthalmic Internet sites that contain everything from simple explanations of conditions to animated eye models. When directing your patients to reliable information on the Internet, consider the following:

    • The source of the information. Find Web sites produced by or affiliated with organizations you trust. Try to find several Web sites and not rely on only one source. 15
    • How often the information is updated. The Web sites should be professionally managed to ensure that the information is kept current at all times. 15

For a list of Academy-recommended Web sites for patients, visit Resources for Your Patients.