Being a doctor is so much more than making a diagnosis and developing a treatment plan. It’s about people. It’s about human connection. Often, I draw things out when teaching my patients.
One of the primary goals of patient-centered care is integrating patient’s as partners in the healthcare team. Before I get into any sort of medical discussion with a patient, I ask them, “What do you understand about your illness? What do you know about your medication?” I want to assess where their current level of understanding is, so that I can meet them there first. This allows me to tailor each patient conversation to the person sitting in front of me.
I then ask my patient’s to repeat what we spoke about, in their own words. If my patient’s are unable to do so, I can explain it in another way. The goal of this so called “teach back” method is to ensure that I have explained medical information clearly to my patient’s and their loved ones.
I never end the conversation without also asking, “What are your goals?” We discuss realistic goals such as getting back to favorite hobbies, traveling, going back to work, or optimizing time with their family. It’s important for us to develop a treatment plan centered around their personal goals. Isn’t the purpose of medicine to improve quality of life? If we aren’t doing that, what are we doing?
So why does patient education even matter? Ultimately, it empowers patient’s to take ownership of their care and make informed decisions about treatment options. Physicians must recognize that helping their patient’s make informed medical choices is an educational process. Yes, this takes time and effort from both parties, but the reward is worth it – a strong patient-physician alliance.
As physicians, we will know when we have become excellent teachers when we observe our patients making educated decisions.