April 2004 Bulletin

Focus groups show value of patient education

By Nancy Fehr

More than ever, patient education is vital to the success of an orthopaedic practice. Medical liability concerns, cultural competency requirements, Internet technology and increased patient access to information have all become part of the orthopaedist's practice landscape in recent years. These and other factors may be contributing to health care providers' appreciation for the importance of patient education, and their renewed commitment to providing it.

A recent series of focus groups that included orthopaedic surgeons, orthopaedic nurses, practice administrators, patients and parents of patients revealed how patient education can benefit orthopaedic patient educators and patients alike.

“All groups of patient education stakeholders agree that patient interaction with the orthopaedic surgeon is the primary-and most important-form of education,” concluded the summary research report. “However, all realistically concede that physician time is limited. Other, non-verbal forms of patient education are acceptable but only insofar as they enhance the information provided by the orthopaedist or facilitate the transmission of that information.”

According to the focus group report, orthopaedists with strong patient education programs benefit by:

Patients like handouts
Focus groups of patients found that those who got printed education materials from their orthopaedist were generally more satisfied. Patients believed the doctor was giving them special attention when educational materials were provided and discussed during their interaction.

Orthopaedists, on the other hand, preferred to educate patients with verbal discussions, and to use patient education materials such as visual models, skeletons, X-rays and pictures, in addition to printed handouts.

According to feedback from both doctors and patients, successful patient education materials are from a credible source, easy to use, affordable, accurate, timely, well illustrated and customizable to the patient's needs and the orthopaedist's practice philosophy.

Internet use
Many patients used the Internet to research their diagnosis, find definitions of medical terms, read descriptions of surgical procedures, learn about physicians' success rates and locate support groups. All patients in the groups said they would visit their orthopaedist's Web site if they knew it existed.

Most nurses in the focus groups used the AAOS patient education Web site (www.OrthoInfo.org) as their first source for Web site patient education materials.

“The findings from these focus groups will provide the Academy with direction to craft and market a new patient education program,” said AAOS marketing director Lewis Jenkins.

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