Over the last decade, healthcare policy makers have determined that optimal health outcomes can only be achieved if patients are equipped to play a role in managing their care. Key policy drivers in the health care sector therefore include providing patients with information to assist them in their choices and promote healthy habits. Health information is deemed fundamental to developing evidence on which health policies and programs are based. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2008) states that “information can range from vital research into the nature, causes and mechanisms of disease; through clinical trials and other research into diagnosis and treatments; to the more statistical information derived from surveys or administrative data” (p.12). This paper will set out to highlight how health information can be used as a strategic resource to improve health care for individuals or groups of health care consumers.
Types and Sources of Information
Patients are exposed to a variety of health information from different sources. One of the most important sources of information for the patient is the physician. Following a visit to a healthcare provider, patients are able to obtain information on their current condition. This information is given by a physician following a consultation session. Protheroe and Rowlands (2013) assert that the speech from the physician is the primary means of dispersing information to the patient. Most patients obtain their primary information from their consultation with doctors. However, research indicates that patients only retain about half of the information received in these consultations (Protheroe & Rowlands 2013).
Furthermore, only half of the information retained by the patient is accurate. This low level of information from consultation is blamed on the health information being too complex. Therefore, most patients lack the capacity to understand or use it. It is important for health education to continue beyond the patient-physician consultation. Protheroe and Rowlands (2013) suggest that health care professionals can supplement the information provided with leaflets and booklets. This educational material is usually written for a non-professional audience. No jargon words are used and most patients are able to follow the information conveyed with relative ease. Pamphlets can be used as effective tools for patient education. A wide range of topics including diabetes, hypertension, asthma management, and safe sex, can be addressed using pamphlets.
Health information on a variety of health concerns can be provided to patients on request. Studies show that more information is provided by health care professionals to patients who ask questions (Langbecker 2012). Health professionals can increase the number of patients who are exposed to the relevant information by encouraging patients to ask questions. Increased questioning by the patient leads to the acquisition of necessary information.
The internet has emerged as one of the most important sources of health and medical information for patients. While physicians have historically been the primary source of this information for patients, their status as the most important health information source is being challenged by the internet. Moussa, Sherrod and Jeungok (2012) declare that health related information has become more available to the public due to the rapid diffusion of information via the internet. The internet provides a wide array of health information to the patient. This information ranges from advice on treatment options for various diseases to self-management guidance for certain illnesses. Patients are able to obtain relevant information on their health concerns from the internet. This information increases the knowledge of the patients and assists in their decision making process in the health services context.
Use of Health Information
Health information can be used to decrease the health disparities between the general population and marginalised groups. Marginalised groups often suffer from a lack of sufficient health information. Health education efforts can be targeted to population groups that have a significant lack of knowledge in health issues. Research suggests that health information is less common in specific population groups such as the immigrants, individuals living in poverty, and individuals with short or uncompleted education (Martensson & Hensing 2012). These groups often face structural barriers such as lack of health insurance and low-income levels, which makes it hard for them to access health services. Providing health information to these groups will empower them to make better decisions concerning their health. Harvey and O’Brien (2011) note that many patients are eager to attain an individualised education around specific medical problems that affect them or their families.
Health education can be used to promote behavioural changes in the society. Many patients engage in harmful behaviour out of ignorance. Access to information removes this ignorance as individuals are made aware of the risks inherent in some habits. Based on this information, patients can take up habits that promote well-being and therefore improve their health. Harvey and O’Brien (2011) document that education empowers patients with important knowledge about lifestyle choices. Patient education can lead to the acquisition of new information that causes people to change their thinking on certain health issues. Ormandy (2011) states that a change in thinking can cause behaviour change to prevent further problems.
After being discharged from hospital, the recovery process for the patient involves decision-making. Martensson and Hensing (2012) assert that the recovery is likely to be better if the patient possesses the relevant information. Healthcare education can be used to promote awareness in the patient. In some cases, patients do not understand what is going on with them and they are simply treated without any information being offered. Education makes the patient aware of what it is going on with him and encourages the patient to adhere to complex drug regimes that might be necessary to cope with some conditions (Cameron 2013). Through better medication adherence, the health outcomes of the patient are improved.
Heath education benefits the patient by reducing the use of costly health care services. Martensson and Hensing (2012) confirm that without relevant health education, individuals are likely to incur unnecessary examinations by physicians and increased need of hospital treatment. While the benefit of reduced use of health care personnel and facilities is significant for all patients, its implication is most appreciated by those who come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds. This group of patients often lacks the money required to access health care services. Through patient education, these low-income patients are able to improve their health status without the need to access costly health care services.
Examples of information Use and Results
Health information can be used in a variety of settings with different outcomes. Patients suffering from chronic conditions benefit from better quality of life due to health education. For example, the health outcomes of patients suffering from chronic heart failure are better when these patients are provided with information concerning their condition and how to manage themselves. Ragnhild, Eines and Solveig (2012) declare that this group of patients has the right to be provided with the information needed to manage their diseases outside the hospital setting. Effective patient education for individuals suffering from chronic heart failure leads to reduced re-hospitalisation rates among this group. This is a significant result since this patient group has one of the highest re-hospitalisation rates in hospitals all over the developed world (Ragnhild et al. 2012).
Through effective patient education, heart disease patients are able to receive the comprehensive information and ongoing education needed to self-monitor behaviour. Through this education, the patients are able to engage in the lifestyle changes needed to improve their health outcomes. For example, patients are likely to change their diets and quit harmful behaviour such as smoking once they are exposed to the necessary information.
Health education can improve the condition for patients with disabling conditions. For example, Patient education has a positive impact on the life outcomes of patients suffering from brain tumours. Langbecker (2012) documents that patients suffering from this affliction suffer from diminished quality of life due to cognitive difficulties, fatigue and frequent seizures. Providing brain tumour patients with the necessary information about their illness, treatment or care is likely to improve the quality of their lives. According to Langbecker (2012), meeting the patients’ information needs leads to a reduction in uncertainty leading to better coping. In addition to this, it enables the patient to take appropriate action in preparation for their future. In some cases, patients suffering from brain tumours are insulated from some information that is deemed “unnecessary”.
This information is often “bad news” and it is kept from the patient due to some perceived psychological benefits of upholding “hope. However, research indicates that the practice of withholding information is unhelpful to the patient. Providing the relevant information enables the patient to make decisions while they still have the capacity to do so.
Patient education plays a positive role in helping patients to cope with their situation. Ormandy (2011) observes that managing stress and coping are the underlying goals of information needs of patients in the healthcare settings. When faced with a stressful or challenging medical condition, the patient appraises the situation with respect to what is at stake. The patient considers the coping resources required and reviews the options that are available to him/her. Ormandy (2011) declares that patient education is important in helping patients cope with the demands of their illness.
Education increases the self-efficacy of the patient. In the healthcare setting, patient self-efficacy refers to the patient’s self-belief in their won capabilities to influence events that affect their lives. Patients with high levels of self-efficacy have better outcomes since they set higher health-oriented goals for themselves and demonstrate greater commitment and motivation to achieve them (Cameron 2013). High self-efficacy makes a patient feel that he/she can influence a situation and therefore demonstrate some control.
Patient education has emerged as an important tool for promoting patient health. This paper has described health information and highlighted the significance of this resource in promoting better health in the patient. Through patient education, self-empowerment and coping strategies can be acquired. This leads to improved quality of life for patients suffering from chronic conditions. By engaging in patient education, health care professionals not only improve health outcomes but also facilitate the modification of health behaviour among patients.
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