Doctor talking to male patient

The Value of Patient Educational Materials

The purpose of your patient educational material is to assist your patient in their understanding and self-management of their health care issues.

It's highly recommended that chiropractors provide patients with educational material and to document that action in the patient’s records. This documentation illustrates the extra steps you are taking to educate the patient. And, if you are taking those extra steps, you will want to be sure to get credit for them by documenting the action.

There are two issues related to patient educational material. First, getting them to patients. Second, making sure the material really meets your goal of educating and assisting the patient. If you are including patient educational material on the after-visit summary and the patient is refusing the summary, the patient may allege you failed to provide them with education.

This happened recently when a patient, a former nurse, advised she was not provided written educational material on the medication she was prescribed. In reviewing the EHR, it was well-documented that she had refused the after-visit summary where additional written educational material (that was routinely provided in addition to the oral education) was included. As you can imagine, her complaint to the practice manager ended there.

The second issue, related to educating and assisting the patient for self-management of their health care issues, should prompt you to review the patient educational information periodically. This review is to confirm the material is updated and meets your goal of appropriately educating your patient. If you are reviewing the material periodically, what should you be looking for? The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has a free toolkit for that.

The toolkit is broken down, recognizing two formats: audiovisual material and printed material. For each format, the toolkit reviews the material from two reference points: understandability and action ability. By reviewing the material from these two perspectives, the questions address whether the material can be easily understood and does the material encourage an action from the reader.

The questions relating to understandability and action ability are quite logical. They are arranged in an “agree/disagree” format. They are designed specifically for the purpose of helping your patient to better participate in their own health care self-management. 

For example: a question from the understandability perspective: “The material uses common everyday language” (agree/disagree). This question is important in helping the patient understand their condition. A question from the action ability perspective: “The material clearly identifies at least one action the user can take” (agree/disagree). From a self-management perspective, you want the patient to be an active participant in their care.

The toolkit lets you score your patient educational material on a scale from 0–100 percent based on whether you agree or disagree with the questions being asked. As you review and score all your patient educational material in your office, you will get a better idea of what materials are better than others and the changes you may want to consider. This is a novel idea. Even if your patient educational material is preprogramed in your EHR, you should still review the materials periodically to confirm they are meeting your needs.

As a bonus, consider the fact that patient educational material is not limited to health issues. Patient educational material can also encompass the information you disseminate to new/existing patients regarding your practice. Many of the questions posed in the two categories can be applied to other information you have in your office. For example, you want your brochures or your website about your office to be in “common everyday language.” You also want to identify at least one way the patient can take action to reach you.

Take a few minutes to review the toolkit users guide and start evaluating your patient educational material. Remember, if a patient refuses a visit summary that includes pertinent information for them, be sure to document that refusal in the patient’s records.

Lastly, with all your educational materials, keep a sample of the material accessible such as in a binder as a reference. Identify the date you started using it. When the material is replaced, keep the original information as historical reference.

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