Five Imperatives of the Ideal Digital Patient Education Tool


I’ve previously discussed what I consider the five imperatives of patient-centric care.  One of them was quality patient education and monitoring tools.

  1. Tools must reflect health literacy. Health literacy is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as “…the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”  Health literacy is a problem which must be addressed across all areas of healthcare.  Consider hospital consent forms for admission and procedures or the ubiquitous HIPAA law notification form where someone might commonly be asked to “just sign here” with the expectation that it won’t be understood anyway. Though simple in concept, health literacy of labels and documents is difficult to achieve by pharmaceutical companies in their own labeling to patients/consumers.  This challenge arises because of the paradoxical regulatory requirements the government places upon these industries.  There is an admirable movement afoot to have these labels accommodate health literacy considerations.
  2. Digital tools must be accurate and interactive. Accuracy of information implies that it is current, factually correct, and follows, if applicable, the most recent professional society guidelines.  Therein lies the devil is in the details factor which is most important to both patient/caregivers and healthcare providers.  It has been previously recommended that professional medical societies become proactive in developing and reviewing apps.  This activity would speak to the mission statements of these organizations by promoting both education and standards for quality care.  At this time there is no easy alternative to address this issue.  Third party medical publishers can certainly play an intermediary role in providing content.  Accuracy of digital educational material is probably the most critical aspect of the adoption of mobile technologies from the viewpoint of the purchaser whether it is a patient or provider. The interactivity of the app is relevant to patient engagement which by definition must be an active process. Interactivity is also important as it can serve as a metric of patient engagement, and even potentially as a patient care quality improvement metric.
  3. Patient education tools must be delivered at the point of engagement. The point of engagement  (POE) is where the need for these tools is most needed and the opportunity for their most significant impact to be made. It need not be the point of a provider-patient interaction.  It is where the most questions will be formulated by patients or caregivers who are often too overwhelmed with information to ask. This POE is more appropriate for the patient’s navigation of the healthcare system which involves so much more than the office visit to the physician or hospital, otherwise known as the point of care.
  4. The tools must be interoperable with electronic health record systems.  The ability for the educational tool to interoperate with the EHR is important for a number of reasons.  I look forward to the day in which these digital education tools are literally prescribed electronically by the provider the same as a prescription.  Doing so incorporates them into the EHR as a significant and respected part of the patient’s care. These tools should also become part of the patient portal, that interactive part of the EHR which patients have access to.
  5. Educational tools must be designed with the caregiver in mind. There is no solution to the crisis in healthcare which will be successful without considering the caregiver.  Educational tools must be able to be accessed by caregivers (if so directed by the patient or health POA).  One of the benefits of digital tools is that they can be shared seamlessly with caregivers. Some tools will be directed specifically towards caregivers who are taking care of patients without digital technology capabilities or adequate literacy to review them alone.  Others will hopefully be directed to the caregiver as support tools in caring for the patient or for they themselves (who are well-known to be vulnerable to problems generated by the stress of caregiving).

Both patients and caregivers have expressed a desire to receive more digital tools. Digital patient education tools are an increasing focus of Pharma  and patient education content developer/marketers.  It is time to put theory into practice and deliver what people want and deserve.

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About davidleescher

David Lee Scher, MD is Founder and Director at DLS HEALTHCARE CONSULTING, LLC, which specializes in advising digital health technology companies, their partners, investors, and clients. As a cardiac electrophysiologist and pioneer adopter of remote patient monitoring, he understood early on the challenges that the culture and landscape of healthcare present to the development and adoption of digital technologies. He is a well-respected thought leader in mobile and other digital health technologies. Scher lectures worldwide on relevant industry topics including the role of tech in Pharma, patient advocacy, standards for development and adoption, and impact on patients and healthcare systems from clinical, risk management, operational and marketing standpoints. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine.
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2 Responses to Five Imperatives of the Ideal Digital Patient Education Tool

  1. Bob Fenton says:

    This phrase “just sign here” is one I hear all too often. My hackles go up when I hear it and I say let me read this first. Then I look and have to ask where the detail is for reading? Ninety nine percent of the time they don’t have it and I refuse to sign. This brings people out of the woodwork and people demanding I sign and I say not without reading what I am signing.

    Next they tell me they will postpone the operation and it will cost me more. Now it gets very interesting when I say they will be the ones paying for the delay because they don’t have the paperwork for me to read and did not allow time for me to read it. Two operations were rescheduled at another hospital as a result and the second hospital gave me ample time to read the paper work. Yes, much was legaleze and very boring, but when I found something important in conflict with what I had been told, the hospital attorney was called in to explain. When he contradicted what the paper said, I asked him to write the correction in and sign the correction – which he said he could not. Operation postponed again. Thank goodness it was not an emergency operation, just a colonoscopy.

    Contesting a “just sign here” request can have interesting consequences. Scares the doctors and hospital administrators which needs to be done. Now when I am scheduled for an operation, I tell the person I want the paperwork at least seven days before the scheduled date and even that causes a panic in many cases. Yes, I now have a reputation, but one hospital has changed their policy of not waiting until just before the operation to request a signature.

    The other fallacy is patient portals and not being able to have correction make to errors in medical records. I have sent in written requests and verbally asked for corrections, but the errors still exist and have not been corrected for over a year. Most of the errors involve medications added and not recorded or stopped but still on the record. A couple were typos from my medical history for diseases I had never heard of and did not have.

  2. ZibdyHeath says:

    David, an excellent list and I hope more people in healthcare read your article. They have most influence on the system and their patient but HCP should not get involved with design of these tools. They should care about accuracy only. If HCPs do not step aside then new tool will look like our current EHRs. On the flip side, most young bright technology whiz kids have no idea about needs of healthcare tool users. It doesn’t have to be fancy but it has to be easy to use.

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