Within recent decades, it has been widely recognized by health care researchers and practitioners that the quality of care largely depends on patient engagement, and patient education is one of the main instruments for such engagement (Koh, Brach, Harris, & Parchman, 2013). With technological development, the number of patient education opportunities has grown today, and the capabilities of available tools have expanded. One of the aspects of this development process is the introduction of information systems and patient education technologies that allow providing patients with health-related information as part of care. It has been confirmed repeatedly that patient education may have a number of positive effects (Gagnon et al., 2012), which stresses the necessity for exploring this area. Reviewing a particular example of patient education technology and reflecting on personal experience of dealing with it will help propose recommendations on the use of this technology for better patient outcomes.
Patient Education Technology Example
A particular example of patient education technology that can be assessed for applicability and effectiveness is an online health education e-learning system. There are many such systems known and used today. One of them is described by Chou, Lin, Woung, and Tsai (2012) in their study of e-learning opportunities in patient education. The system they address is designed to provide outpatients with various types of health-related information delivered in a simple and interactive way. The chosen format implies that targets receive rather short passages of specific information on a subject selected from a wide range of health topics. The content is provided by medical experts and approved by health care scholars and officials. Graphics and illustrations are provided to make the content more appealing and more understanding. Moreover, the system enables consulting a professional health care provider online by sending requests and questions.
Chou et al. (2012) identified several considerable benefits of the e-learning technology for medical facilities, care providers, and patient outcomes, but it was also shown that the system’s use is rather limited, and there are barriers to effective implementation. A major barrier is the lack of patient engagement. Although the majority of participants of the study conducted by Chou et al. (2012) demonstrated their willingness to receive educational materials via the e-learning system, there is evidence that many patients did not pay enough attention to this opportunity of enhancing health-related knowledge and understanding. At the same time, reported satisfaction was high—after using the e-learning technology, approximately half of the participants confirmed that it had been beneficial.
Although the addressed e-learning system is designed to be used by outpatients, it should not be regarded as something unrelated to nursing care. Studies confirm that patient education in various forms is a significant contribution to the work of nurses (Koh et al., 2013). As care providers who are responsible to a certain extent for delivering health-related information to patients in one form or another, nurses should recognize the importance of e-learning opportunities. Moreover, the role of nurses is crucial because, even if an e-learning system is supposed to be used by patients independently outside of medical facilities, initial instructions on how the system should be properly used is the responsibility of nurses. In order to perform this function effectively, nurses should be not only familiarized with the system they present to the patient but also experienced in using it themselves and confident that patients are able to use the system to the full, with maximum benefits.
On a larger scale, there is the issue of the effectiveness of e-learning health information systems and their benefits for patient outcomes from the perspective of applying information systems in health care in general and patient education in particular. A number of studies confirm that, while there are many examples of applying e-learning systems where patient outcomes were improved, there are also cases where such an improvement was not observed. After reviewing 101 academic studies in this area, Gagnon et al. (2012) identified several groups of factors related to patients, nurses, and facilities that may be facilitators or barriers of using information and communication technologies successfully. The facilitator that was referred to by researchers most frequently is the perceived usefulness, which means that e-learning patient educations systems bring positive change if they are recognized as helpful by patients as well as health care providers. The most frequently mentioned barriers are related to workload. Nurses may not pay enough attention to patient education technologies due to be overloaded by other aspects of their work.
I personally faced patient education technology when visiting a hospital several years ago. I spent several hours in the emergency room before a physician could see me. After a short examination, I was given some instructions on what I needed to do regarding my health problem, and the physician left, but there was still a nurse who needed to perform a simple procedure. We talked, and she was trying to comfort me by saying that my health problem was nothing serious. She was rather talkative, and I decided to ask her several questions. But before I could ask her (I was waiting for her to finish her stories about cases similar to mine that she had witnessed), she gave me a booklet and told me to visit a website indicated in it. It was an e-learning patient education platform, and the nurse told me I should refer to it to know more about my condition. However, I tried to ask her one or two questions about my health problem, but she said she did not want to reply because she could get it wrong, so I better visit the platform.
I did it as soon as I could, and I have to say I was rather disappointed. I went straight to the platform before searching for anything about my health problem in search engines because I know that there is a high risk of finding irrelevant or inaccurate information. Moreover, one can interpret findings in the wrong way if he or she lacks health-related and medicine-related knowledge. That is why I hoped that the platform that I was recommended to use by the nurse would clarify everything for me. However, the platform was more confusing than clarifying. It was a number of buttons with various health-related topics written on them. Clicking a button took a user to a lengthy text that seemed to have been taken from a medical encyclopedia, as it featured scientific language. The platform did not have a search function, so it took me about 20 minutes to find something related to my health problem. However, the information I found was overwhelmingly academic, and I thought that it was rather for a doctor than for a patient.
I think that the outpatient education system employed by the facility I visited is not effective in any way. The nurse did not explain to me how the system was supposed to work. I had spent some time figuring it out, and even when I did, the information I received from the platform was something I could have accessed within second via a search engine, but it could not help me anyway because it was medical information and not something that I think should be called patient education, i.e. explaining health-related topics to patients in such terms that patients can understand what their problems are about and what to do with them.
It has been shown that some health care providers strive to ensure better care by improving patient education by introducing information systems. However, it has also been identified that the usefulness of some patient education technologies is perceived as low because they are rather confusing and overwhelming for patients. In my practice, I think the experience of facing a poor patient education information system will help be more attentive to the needs of patients. A particular need that I feel obliged to address is the need for understanding health problems and being guided on how to behave to prevent negative outcomes. Patient education is needed to ensure that a patient engages in inadequate prevention and self-management that contribute to his or her treatment and rehabilitation. But is it also needed to comfort a patient, as knowing what a disease is about and how it works makes one less scared about it? I believe a nurse should make sure that the education provided to a patient is intelligible and perceived by the patient as helpful, and I am planning to stick to this belief in my practice.
Gagnon, M. P., Desmartis, M., Labrecque, M., Car, J., Pagliari, C., Pluye, P.,…Légaré, F. (2012). Systematic review of factors influencing the adoption of information and communication technologies by healthcare professionals. Journal of Medical Systems, 36(1), 241-277.
Koh, H. K., Brach, C., Harris, L. M., & Parchman, M. L. (2013). A proposed ‘health literate care model’ would constitute a systems approach to improving patients’ engagement in care. Health Affairs, 32(2), 357-367.
Chou, H. K., Lin, I. C., Woung, L. C., & Tsai, M. T. (2012). Engagement in e-learning opportunities: An empirical study on patient education using expectation confirmation theory. Journal of Medical Systems, 36(3), 1697-1706.