Patient Education and Community Outreach: Cornerstones of Care

Outreach efforts should combine new media and old-fashioned face-to-face communication.

By Perry Athanason
 

Patient education and community outreach cannot be overlooked as integral parts of your daily clinical practice activities. This is a major cornerstone for a successful, growing, and well-functioning practice, not only for the benefit to the patient, but also for your clinical staff, receptionists, billing department, administrators, technicians, photographers, and everyone else involved.

Some tips from the Retinal Consultants of Arizona communications playbook may help you implement sustainable programs in your practice to promote and support patient and community health education.

We invited a few of the retina specialists from Retinal Consultants of Arizona to chime in with their thoughts on this article’s advice. Their opinions appear throughout the article.

INTERACTIVE PATIENT EDUCATION

No matter how many brochures or models of the eye you hand out to explain a condition or treatment path to patients, they will most likely leave your office with less understanding and more questions than when they walked in. Most of your patients will not fall into the 12% of US adults considered to have proficient health literacy,1 and a lack of understanding can lead to frustrated patients. This may in turn reduce compliance among patients who need regularly scheduled treatments.

“In a busy retina practice, it can be easy to overlook our responsibility to educate our patients about their clinical conditions. However, spending just a few extra minutes in the office, adding educational resources on your website, or hosting community presentations can have a profound impact on the physician-patient relationship. Our patients at Retinal Consultants of Arizona really appreciate our emphasis on patient education, and I believe it significantly improves compliance and follow-up.”
— Neal V. Palejwala, MD

A clear and concise website is the foundation of your practice’s digital footprint and the window into your practice from the patient community perspective. A clearly presented website is the basis from which all your patient education and community outreach will stem. Knowing that your audience may not be as internet savvy as other patient groups (retina patients are predominantly older), make sure your website is warm, inviting, and easy to navigate.

BECOME A VIDEO PRODUCER

Creating a video library is one of the best investments you can make in your website toward the goal of educating patients. They do not have to be slick, Hollywood-style produced videos. A simple physician interview 3 to 4 minutes long covering a specific condition or treatment will go a long way toward making sure you are providing patients with reviewable, easily understood information that they can watch over and over again at their leisure.

Another great way to introduce your practice to your community is by creating short video presentations on each of your physicians. This way, patients can see and hear the physician before meeting him or her in person. This helps increase patients’ comfort levels prior to their visits and helps you connect with them on a personal, not clinical, level. Placing narrated videos on your website also allows patients with visual impairments to hear your voice, digest information, learn about their conditions, and understand the treatments you provide.

POST AND TWEET

Do not ignore social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter that allow you to connect with your patients and offer updates and new information regarding conditions and treatments. Use social media to promote the patient education materials housed on your website. This is where your website plays that foundational role mentioned above, as your social media posts link users back to the website. For example, when you place a new video about diabetic retinopathy on your website, you can advertise it through your social media channels with a direct link to the video page. Users will visit your site and spend more time on the website, not only watching the specific video tagged in your tweet, but in many cases watching other videos and introductions to your practice offerings.

“I find that patients who are informed about their conditions tend to ask better and more detailed questions and feel more empowered, and thus less frightened by what can often be a serious issue. As a result, well-informed patients are typically more actively involved in their own care, which can translate into improved compliance, both in our clinic and in those of their primary care physicians (in the case of systemic conditions). Patient education also helps to address the many community myths and emotional overtones associated with a disease that sometimes lurk beneath the surface.”
— Sujit Itty, MD

When you are considering launching or ramping up your web presence through social media or a website redesign, keep in mind that approximately 80% of adults go online to research their health conditions and options for treatment, and 23% of social network site users have followed their friends’ personal health recommendations.2

FACE-TO-FACE PATIENT EDUCATION

While working in the easy-to-use realm of social media and internet-based platforms, do not forget that most of your elderly patients with eye diseases are guided by a family member or care provider to help them with daily tasks, one of which is driving them to and from your office. Your patients themselves may not be internet-savvy, but their caregivers most likely are. Instruct your staff to invite these caregivers into the examination room so that they are present to hear updates or instructions on the patient’s condition (granted they are consented to do so).

“The community outreach program is a vital part of our practice’s identity. As we cover many satellite locations all over Arizona, it helps to establish our presence within the fabric of each particular local community, strengthens ties with local referring providers, and increases and maintains overall brand awareness. By combining online educational material, live virtual town halls, and in-person presentations to small groups of community members and providers, we also help raise awareness of serious eye conditions and the numerous clinical trials in which we participate as part of our mission as an academic private practice.”
— L. Milad Haak, MD

During your consultation, inform, invite, and encourage the patients and their caregivers to use the information available on your website. Inform them about your library of videos that further explain their conditions. Invite them to watch the videos and formulate questions, and encourage them to bring those questions to their next visit. Perhaps hand out an oversized card with the website information on it. This exchange can take less than 30 seconds, and it will build trust, respect, and understanding with your patients, not to mention creating better-informed patients with the information you have made available.

LOOK PATIENTS IN THE EYE

One of the strongest ways to educate the elderly population and to grow your patient base is to reach out into the community personally. Set aside a few hours each month to visit support groups in your practice areas. In communities across the nation, people with similar medical conditions and ailments meet to help each other physically and emotionally. Support groups for those diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or with diabetes-related eye conditions are among the most common. These are two patient groups that make up a large part of your retina practice, and they need constant updates on information and education to help them make informed health care decisions.

“Part of being a doctor is providing service to your individual patients and to society as a whole. Community outreach programs including TV or radio segments on health-related issues are vital in informing people, especially the older generation who may not be very comfortable with the internet or have access to other routes to get basic health information.”
— Mark Barakat, MD

Most retirement communities have a dedicated health care facilities coordinator. When you visit, ask them if you can provide a 30- to 45-minute educational seminar on AMD and diabetic eye disease.

Engage The Community

Reaching out into your community in these ways will demonstrate your care beyond the office visits, and further demonstrate that your patients (and future patients) are not alone in their fears or anxieties about diseases that could rob them of their vision and independence. n

1. US Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Health Communication Activities. America’s health literacy: why we need accessible health information. health.gov/communication/literacy/issuebrief. Accessed December 21, 2015.

2. Pew Research Center. The Social Life of Health Information, 2011. http://bit.ly/1YYrdXR. Accessed December 21, 2015.

Perry Athanason
• director of communications, Retinal Consultants of Arizona, Phoenix
pathanason@retinalconsultantsaz.com

FROM THE BMC ARCHIVE

Why All Retina Doctors Should Be On Twitter
S.K. Steven Houston III, MD
New Retina Volume 6, Issue 3
Find Online at: bit.ly/houston116

 

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484-581-1821
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Janet Burk
Publisher
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About New Retina MD

New Retina MD delivers cutting-edge content to retina specialists in their first 15 years of practice. Each issue provides fresh insight from younger physicians plus established mentors on clinical and nonclinical issues affecting ophthalmologists in the earlier stages of their careers. NRMD features surgical pearls, clinical research endeavors, practice management, medical reimbursement and policy, continuing educational requirements, financial planning, innovations, and more.