Online Courses in the Healthcare Industry: Educating Patients

For healthcare professionals – be it hospital staff, medical representatives or bio-scientists developing new drugs, online learning courses can provide training and support in a variety of ways. For patients and caregivers too, who are at the other end of the spectrum in the healthcare industry, e-learning has a lot to offer. While every healthcare organization has available literature providing detailed information on the above, patients are often not able to perceive or understand them well to take informed decisions. This is where online learning courses can come into play.

  • An illness of any kind is daunting for an individual. For the lack of time, doctors or nurses are often unable to sit with patients and discuss their options at length with them. Misconceptions and myths concerning certain illnesses also hinder an open face-to-face discussion. Online learning courses enabled learning allows patients as well as caregivers to gather information at their own pace and in a secure environment.
  • A number of strategies can be employed to put the learner at ease and help them understand their options better. For instance, we developed a course on IVF for one of India’s leading IVF specialists, where scenarios were built with real-life people, practical problems and solutions. The learners were informed about IVF, various procedures and their options with the help of these scenarios.
  • Information and interactivities within an online learning course can prepare patients for the meeting with the doctor. This shortens the time spent on making them understand the mundane necessities and can be better spent in actual face-to-face interactions. For instance, in a course on a debilitating gastrointestinal disorder, we included clinic forms which the patients need to fill to get treatment for the disease. Important portions of the form like healthcare insurance details, details of previous treatments and history of vaccinations were highlighted to make sure that the patients can produce these details quickly and take the minimum time to fill in the forms in a correct manner.
  • Perhaps the most important benefit of technology-aided learning for healthcare patients is that it makes understanding complex procedures possible, even if he or she is a layman. With e-learning, graphics and 2D and 3D animations can be used to visually re-create complex procedures and break them down to individual steps to aid understanding. The patients have the option of re-enforcing their understanding by reading up the material whenever they need and sharing it with their family and friends as well.
  • In addition to information on the illness, treatment options and procedures, online learning courses can also provide the much needed mental and emotional support for patients as well as their caregivers. By sharing coping mechanisms, important resources, links and practical insights that is available to patients and their families at all times, e-courses can provide long term support. This is especially important if the treatment options have a long term implication on the quality of a patient’s life.
  • With the aid of technology, we can also create a virtual community of patients and caregivers. Discussion boards, wikis or blogs can be created inviting patients and their families to share experiences. It can double up as a searchable knowledge repository, where they can search for information and share it further. This will help dealing with their illness better and dispel the feeling of alienation that often accompanies illness.

There are many ways of creating a technology-aided solution to help patients and their families. More and more doctors and healthcare providers are turning to these solutions to help their patients better.

Physicians, What Can Blogs Do For You?

“It is our duty to remember at all times and anew that medicine is not only a science, but also the art of letting our own individuality interact with the individuality of the patient.” Albert Schweitzer (1875-2965)

Word-of-Mouth is the world’s most effective marketing strategy. As the old ads used to state “Friends tell friends and so on and so on….” Medical blogging has the potential to convey a provider’s/ physician’s sense of caring and knowledge about medicine. If used as a tool to improve communication to your patients/customers, medical blogging could be part of a plan to make you known as the most famous and friendly doctor in the community.

First a short story:

Two weeks ago, one of the physicians I work with was walking a patient to the reception area after seeing her. They walked right past my door and I could hear the patient asking the doctor for some advice on things she could do to improve her health status. The doctor responded with two brief suggestions and then stated, “Why don’t you visit my blog. I’ve got a number of other helpful suggestions there.”

Evidence and clinical research data seems to suggest that the
patient-provider relationship can influence treatment adherence and health outcomes in a variety of different disease states.

In fact a study by Felicia Trachtenberg and colleagues (2005) at the New England Research Institute published in The Journal of Family Practice , found that increased levels of trust in physicians is associated with greater willingness to seek care, to follow recommendations, and to grant physicians decisional authority over treatment. Additionally, higher trust in a specific physician is strongly associated with greater reported adherence to treatment.

In the days of 10-15 minute physician appointments, the patient-provider relationship is tenuous, at best. How could any sense of trust be built in such a short time? Doesn’t trust building require finding some commonalties between two people?

I would venture that given the current system, many patients feel that physicians are interchangeable. That’s just a travesty. Most providers go into healthcare because they really want to help people. However, the system they work in has squeezed the bedside manner and art of caring out of most work days. How can anyone be passionate about their job if their customers view them that way?

I would pose that medical blogs, while an investment of precious time, can be a tool to foster patient-provider relationships. Blogs are supposed to be a bit personal. However because of today’s climate in healthcare I avoid using an identity-type blog (Mommy blogs, or web diarys) as a communication tool with patients. Instead, perhaps utilize a more fact-based tone where key concepts and best clinical practices are emphasized with personal examples.

Example: Lets say you want to give some detailed information on how patients can fit more activity into the day. Instead of just writing down a list of ideas, you could frame the list as “6 things I’m trying this month to increase my activity level.” You are giving the same information, but you are adding a personal tone to it.

So how is this going to help?

  • For the physician I work with, his blog helps him to better manage his schedule. He knows what is on his blog and he since he wrote it he believes in the content. After giving a few bits of advice/information to get the patient started, he directs the patient to the blog as a place where he or she can locate more information at a later date.
  • Information overload for patients can be better managed. A physician simply cannot explain all the details of evidence-based practice in a short visit. Even if he or she could, a patient can only absorb so many facts and suggestions in a 15-minute time span. The blog provides a point of reference that can be referred back to time and again.
  • Timely, helpful, and trusted information on frequently asked questions can be available online 24 hours a day. This may reduce the number of time-consuming call-backs to patients.
  • The forum provided by the blog can introduce new members of the practice and point patients to staff that can help to answer specific questions. This kind of information helps patients better navigate the healthcare system and be more active participants in their own health.
  • By using a personal tone in your blog, patients may have more of an opportunity to learn about your interests and ideas. This in turn could make the process of establishing rapport a little easier. Saving a little time in this endeavor may translate into improved adherence to treatment and better outcomes.
  • Blogging also give providers an opportunity to share their personalities and establish themselves as experts. If your blog starts a buzz in your community and people like your online presence, then that improves your chance of being sought out as an opinion leader. This may open new doors for you professionally and may improve the strength of your practice/business.
  • In closing, I’m not claiming that blogging is the only tool needed in a healthcare marketing toolbelt. However, it can have some time-saving benefits and can help patients take a more active role in their healthcare. I also believe it could possibly make you the most-likable Doc in your community!

    “The treatment of a disease may be entirely impersonal; the care of a patient must be completely personal.” Francis Weld Peabody, MD, Harvard Physician (1881-1927)