The State of Patient Education

The state of patient education is in dire straits. At MedTera, we recently conducted a diverse survey of more than 7,000 patients. 50-four per cent of respondents answered “not at all” when asked if they had the information needed to manage their illnesses when they left their doctors’ offices. 80-one per cent answered “not at all” when asked if they knew where to find online resources to manage their conditions. And 77 per cent reported that they did not receive any written information about their illnesses and/or medications from their doctors during their most recent visits.

It’s clear that patients are crying out for more information. In our survey, 94 per cent of respondents said they would find details on the importance of follow-ups and tests “very much” or “extremely” valuable, 82 per cent gave that response regarding changes in lifestyle that may be required and 78 per cent responded as such regarding medications and potential side-effects.

Pharmaceutical companies are in the best position to fill these gaps. They have vast financial and global resources, and in addition to the noble goal of better patient outcomes, they also have a lot at stake financially. Dr. Mark Vanelli of the Harvard Medical School has found that pharmaceutical manufacturers sacrifice between $0.40 and $2.34 of potential revenue for every dollar of current revenue due to high rates of medication discontinuation.

New patients (“rookies”) are at an especially high risk of medication non-adherence. We recently conducted a “Rookies @ Risk” survey that found that patients new to therapy are 10 times more likely to stop taking their medications during the first month of treatment than during subsequent months. According to the New England Healthcare Institute, medication non-adherence is responsible for approximately $290 billion in otherwise avoidable medical spending in the U.S. each year. The ripple effects are dramatic. In terms of opportunity and actual costs, non-adherent patients impact themselves, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, insurers and sometimes even taxpayers (because of unpaid hospital bills).

Pharmaceutical companies must provide doctors and patients with resources to improve patient education and medication adherence. An excellent approach is to employ interactive solutions that allow patients to engage with the content on their terms, and on their time. This information should be delivered in the form of print as well as electronic resources.

At present, more than 80 per cent of Americans own a personal computer, and a similar number of Americans are expected to own a smartphone by 2015 (according to Forrester Research and Frost & Sullivan). We’re wired all day long, and our healthcare needs to keep pace. In its January issue, Med Ad News cited the rise of electronic media in other industries (such as travel, e-commerce and social networks) as evidence that patients “will demand it from the healthcare system.”

In fact, the best print materials are “dimensional-to-digital,” meaning that the printed pages serve as springboards to detailed electronic resources such as websites and mobile phone apps. These resources are easily customised for different audiences, such as new patients, experienced patients and caregivers. Examples include diet, exercise and wellness tracking; mobile guides on specific illnesses; daily tracking applications for symptoms; medication management schedules; reporting tools that can be sent directly to physicians; and more.

Healthcare cannot stop once a patient leaves a doctor’s office. The debate over the quality of patient care needs to focus around improving the educational resources available to patients and promoting their self-management skills.

Patients need to be responsible advocates for their own healthcare. But they can’t do it alone. Pharmaceutical companies and doctors need to adapt their patient education programs so that they give patients the tools to succeed. That starts with giving them the information they need, when and how they want it.

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