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How patients learn in the digital age is not just limited to the health care arena. Today’s health information technology, at many hospitals and other health-related centers, is increasingly incorporating non-traditional methods of communication, such as webinars, e-mails, and telephone follow-ups. And, most health care professional organizations are rethinking their strategic marketing and communications efforts to include more online content. In this article, we’ll explore how these practices affect the delivery of health education.

how patients learn in the digital age
the rise of healthcare extenders

In the old days, information technology largely defined the way a patient learned about his or her health-care options. Educators used computer monitors to record daily appointments with their patients and then transcribed these recordings into electronic files. The files were then typed up by librarians into journal pages and mailed out to the patient’s primary care physician. To find out the severity of the patient’s condition, a physician would look at a chart and make a decision. Health information technology systems, which mostly replaced traditional medical practices, were slow and cumbersome, and only provided limited information to the patient and caregiver.

In the health information technology era, care providers are often using computers to provide patients with an integrated perspective of their disease. The first step toward improving patient education is the introduction of digital signage.

Digital Signage refers to the incorporation of a digital screen or display, usually housed in a patient’s bedside table, on which physicians and patients can present vital information, such as symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis, and lab results. Digital signage has proven extremely effective in providing an interactive environment for patients and caregivers who can easily ask for clarification on medical questions.

While digital signage in a hospital setting may seem like an easy way to improve patient education, it also has the potential to be a liability. Healthcare organizations that implement digital signage are often required to train hospital staffs about the protocols for use of the digital signage and to educate patients and caregivers about the safety issues associated with using the display. Many healthcare facilities have also found digital signage distracting, especially to patients.

The initial issue with digital signage is the user interface. Healthcare users may not have a working knowledge of the digital signage program and may react poorly to the signage program’s relatively non-intrusive interface.

As the technology becomes more sophisticated, the Internet continues to play a role in improving health care by letting patients learn about health-related topics from the comfort of their own homes. The advent of online health education via Webinars, e-mail, and chat rooms gives patients a chance to ask questions and learn about health care services, research, and innovative ways to cure or treat their disease. Doctors and nurses can discuss solutions, and patients have the opportunity to choose what their physicians are most likely to recommend.

How patients learn through Webinars, e-mail, and chat rooms is a particularly valuable tool for educational professionals. Electronic methodologies are no longer limited to the doctors’ offices and patient’s bedsides. Medical staff can now provide a hands-on environment that improves the patient’s ability to learn and makes the experience much more exciting for them.

Further, health-care institutions have realized that the inclusion of e-mail and chat-room users during Webinars and e-mailed messages creates a network effect for encouraging patients to come to the location of the Webinar or the exchange of e-mailed messages. All of these efforts to improve patient education through Webinars, e-mails, and chat sessions help healthcare organizations improve their brand image and services.

Overall, health care organizations should incorporate both new media technologies such as e-mails and Webinars, and traditional methods such as health information technology, to expand their reach and make it easier for patients to learn about their care options. On the other hand, they should take a stand against any healthcare organization that does not offer digital signage in its facilities, but rather continues to rely on old-fashioned, clumsy, manual methods of delivering health education.