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94% of Patients Want Patient Education Content, But a Third Don’t Get It

Researchers indicated that limited access to patient education content opens the door for patients to Google their questions and be exposed to medical misinformation.

Nearly everyone wants patient education materials from their healthcare providers, but only two-thirds are actually getting them, according to new data from Wolters Kluwer Health.

That leaves some patients to fill in the gaps on their own by Googling the answers to their medical questions and potentially exposing themselves to medical misinformation.

It’s an impossible ask for every patient to remember all of the information communicated during a medical appointment with no lingering questions. Indeed, a recent University of Michigan Medical School study found that half of patients forget the care plans they hear during their medical encounters.

The Wolters Kluwer Health survey of around 1,000 adult healthcare consumers adds to that, showing that a lot of patients have questions following their medical encounters. Two-thirds of patients have questions after a provider encounter, while 19 percent have new questions after their appointments.

Patients want to hear from their providers regarding these questions, the survey added, with 94 percent confirming that they would access patient education materials from their clinicians if they had access to them.

But that access is limited, with only 63 percent of respondents saying they routinely get sent educational materials from their providers. About a third (32 percent) said they aren’t offered any educational materials from their providers.

Offering patient education materials is also a benefit to the provider via improved patient satisfaction, the survey indicated. Patients who get patient education content report better patient experience, while 68 percent said it increases the odds that they will return to that provider, boosting patient loyalty.

Moreover, educational content empowers patients to find the answers to their questions on their own. While secure direct messaging via the patient portal is always an option, proactively giving the patient educational content could reduce the volume of inbox messages, which is key as providers face increasing burnout rates.

And although the survey did not explore how common this is, the authors did note that limited patient education can leave the door open for online medical research, or consulting Dr. Google. Patients who don’t get educational materials from their clinicians still have questions and still want answers, so they might turn to the litany of materials online to find out.

That isn’t always a bad thing; some of those online materials are accurate and can be helpful. But this process would be unvetted, the survey authors pointed out, so clinicians do not know what kind of information their patients are getting. That’s troubling, considering how rampant medical misinformation has become, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Medical misinformation is all over the place, patients have said, and that makes it hard for them to parse the accurate from the inaccurate. In 2022, patients told experts from The Center for Black Health & Equity that they get most of their vaccine information on social media, and they don’t trust it. Patients associate social media websites with misinformation, suggesting that these aren’t great spaces to share healthcare best practices, even if that advice is correct.

Exposure to medical misinformation can have an overall adverse effect on patient health literacy levels, separate data has found, so it would benefit healthcare providers to assess strategies to directly engage patients in education.

Communication skills like patient teach-back will help patients retain information at the point of care, but integrating educational aids like handouts or digital engagement modules could also help patients once they have left the clinic. Access to vetted medical information and patient education will particularly help patients who have questions after the fact or who forget their care plans.

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