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    Building a patient education program

    The term ‘patient education’ sounds straightforward. You explain to patients the cause of their symptoms and what they need to do. More, though, patient education can be a powerful tool that complements your expertise and boosts patient engagement. Not only can good, clear communication empower patients and improve outcomes, it also leads to the kind of engagement that encourages patients to share more information. This gives dermatologists and their staff previously non-existent opportunities to respond to their patients’ needs, and for aesthetic patients, expand on treatment options. When patient needs are understood, those needs can be met by guiding them to services either within your practice or referring them to outside resources - the first option builds revenue, and both build patient satisfaction and loyalty while strengthening the clinic-patient relationship.

    As a dermatologist, you likely consider educating your patients to be a big part of your job. After all, isn’t that what you do all day: communicate to patients about diagnosis, treatment plans and follow-ups? But you might not know what your patients aren’t understanding. What information might your staff not have communicated? What are patients not telling you because they either aren’t sure how, or they had no idea you could help.  A solid patient education program can keep patients, resources and revenue from falling through the cracks - a win-win for your patients and your practice!


    A solid patient education program should include: 

    • A process for verifying that your patient understands the diagnosis and treatment plan for each visit.

    • A designated staff member with allocated time to give instructions for home care, meds, etc. Include feedback that the patient is able and willing to comply.

    • Time for healthcare providers to ‘dig deeper’ for more information, possible underlying issues or a better understanding of patients’ expectations, which can often lead to setting up another appointment for:

      • Addressing this newly revealed issue

      • Screenings or tests to help reach new diagnosis

      • A more extensive exam to go over multiple conditions and develop a comprehensive care plan

      • Reviewing the existing care plan, which may lead to a referral for other services, treatment programs or advocacy groups.

    • Easy-to-access educational options that fit different learning styles. This will engage patients with specific information about their diagnosis, procedures or preventative care that has been recommended. Visually aesthetic and easy-to-read pamphlets that patients take home are still helpful, and patients are further empowered when equipped with online resources that allow them to go deeper. Taking a moment to show patients how to access more information on the Internet via your portal, website or other educational sites can improve patient engagement and practice efficiency in the long run. New apps like Skin Advocate (Society of Investigative Dermatology) and Dermatology A-Z (AAD) equip patients with information and help providers streamline referrals to patient advocacy groups.  Give patients easy-to-access options that fit their learning style for more engaged, better-educated patients.

    • Good tracking of data and communication about the patient’s visit. For instance, building detailed documentation into practice operations allows staff to follow up at the next visit to find out how the treatment plan has been integrated into the patient’s ADL (activities of daily living).

    You’ll need to educate your staff on the importance and objectives of excellent patient education. Ensuring these objectives are met will require specific tasks to be assigned to staff that fully grasp the importance of the program.  Building in staff accountability measures is also crucial to success. Consider building custom fields into your EHR and a clear plan on how you will track success, how you will be alerted when improvement is needed and what measures will be taken to boost or reward success.

    Effective implementation of a patient education program will increase engagement, communication, compliance, utilization of services and boost outcomes. Your unique specialty provides opportunities to look within your dermatological patient population for ways to expand patient education in a meaningful way that will be appreciated by your patients while building a stronger practice and increasing revenue streams.

    Look for our next article  “Six Components of Rock-Solid Patient Education”

    Resources for offering online resources to patients: https://www.aad.org/members/patient-education

    Cheryl Bisera
    Cheryl Bisera is a marketing consultant, author and speaker with extensive experience in marketing and business promotion. She is ...

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