An empowered patient is an educated patient

I recently got a pleasant healthcare surprise while listening to one of my favorite radio stations here in Atlanta. In between some really good jazz tunes, Clark Atlanta University’s WCLK radio station played what to me seemed like a public service announcement from Medicare. In the ad, two women chatted about the news that Medicare offers its members free consultations with their doctors — a chance for patients to air any concerns they may have and potentially get them started on some sort of wellness program if appropriate. The radio ad ended with a tagline akin to “Go tell your neighbor.”

This was a surprise to me because I hear so much talk of educating and empowering patients in this age of coordinated care and increasingly savvy healthcare consumerism, but have rarely seen or heard any real-world examples.

Many of the #HITsm tweet chats I’ve been a part of have had a common theme of empowering the patient — putting their data in their own hands (but sometimes phrased more colorfully), educating them about the benefits of electronic medical records and coordinated care programs, and the like. These calls for action are all well and good, but I often wonder how much of our cheerleading is reaching beyond the World Wide Web and impacting the communities around us.

I recently attended the Healthcare IT Summit, an interesting event in that it brings together providers, payers and vendors for two days of networking, education and exhibit opportunities. An underlying theme in more than a few conversations I had during networking hours came back to the fundamental issue of patient education — not just the kind that starts when you walk into the door of your primary care physician, but also the kind that anyone can hear on the radio.

Many of the providers and payers agreed that to truly make coordinated care programs effective, to truly overhaul healthcare in America, to get everyone on the same interoperable, digital framework, you have to start educating people before they become patients. Whether that’s teaching school kids about healthy eating choices, offering health and wellness programs at local churches, or sponsoring radio ads advertising the benefits of government-sponsored health programs, it’s going to take a major shift in thinking on the part of everyone to get this ball rolling, especially when it comes to reaching underserved communities that need healthcare services the most but have the least access to digital tools.

Have you seen or heard examples of patient education in your daily life? How are providers, payers and even vendors reaching out to the general public? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Jennifer Dennard is Social Marketing Director for Atlanta-based Billian's HealthDATA, Porter Research and Connect with her on Twitter @SmyrnaGirl.