Telehealth has the potential to change the way patients are educated about their conditions. By using virtual modalities to educate patients, healthcare providers can improve accessibility and efficiency of care.
The Importance Of Patient Education
Patient education is a critical component of the treatment for chronic conditions. Educational support not only provides patients with important disease-related information, it can also empower patients to take on a more active role in their health. Unfortunately, however, many patients with chronic conditions find themselves without proper education. The lack of patient education can considerably limit a patient’s ability for self-management and can thus negatively affect the disease process.
Patients traditionally receive disease-related education during face-to-face interactions with a healthcare provider. However, this in-person delivery model has become less viable and less convenient due to a variety of factors, such as time, distance, and cost. The barriers that prevent patients from receiving proper education leave them susceptible to getting information from unreliable sources.
Overcoming Barriers To Education With Telehealth
Virtually delivered patient education is way to overcome these barriers. A systematic review was recently published that examined the influence of using telehealth to deliver patient education. The review included 16 studies that compared virtually delivered education to usual care (face-to-face or paper delivery).
The modality of virtual care differed across studies, allowing researchers to explore patient education delivered via the Internet, telephone, videoconferences, and television. The patient populations in the studies included patients with diabetes, COPD, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and heart failure. The average age of the patients across studies was 54.
Virtual education content was personalized in each study and included materials such as medication reminders, health related surveys, and motivational messages. A variety of health care professionals were involved in the delivery of education, allowing for a comprehensive approach to care. For example, the videoconferencing education sessions were delivered by nurse educators, dietitians, and physical therapists.
Improving Patient Outcomes With Virtual Education
The researchers examined five outcomes to determine the efficacy of virtually delivered patient education. These outcomes included clinical indicators, patient knowledge, quality of life, self-care, and healthcare utilization.
12 of the 16 studies in the systematic review measured clinical indicators. Patients who received virtual education demonstrated improvements or comparable results to usual care. For example, patients with diabetes who received virtual education demonstrated significant improvements in fasting blood sugar, 3-month average glucose control, and post prandial glucose levels.
Six of the studies measured patient knowledge. Patient knowledge was either evaluated as disease specific knowledge or according to skill performance (e.g. using an inhaler). The studies found either significantly improved or comparable results between virtual education and control groups.
Quality of life was measured in six studies. Overall, patients who received virtual education experienced better or the same improvements in quality of life compared to control patients.
Self-care was reported in five studies, all of which found non-significant improvements in self-care outcomes, such as adherence and compliance.
Healthcare utilization was measured in four studies. This is an important metric because chronic diseases account for a large proportion of healthcare utilization and spending. Although the studies found no difference in hospitalizations for patients with diabetes, heart failure, or IBD, they did find that patients with IBD who received virtual education required fewer visits to outpatient facilities. This resulted in a cost savings of 189 euros per patient per year.
The Efficacy Of Telehealth And Patient Education
Overall, the researchers found that 11 of the 16 studies included in the systematic review demonstrated significantly improved outcomes for patients who received virtual education as opposed to usual care. The remaining five studies revealed that virtual education resulted in comparable outcomes to control conditions. These findings support the notion that virtual education is more effective or comparable to usual care for patients with chronic diseases.
The results of this study highlight the importance of patient education and suggest that, when virtually delivered, it is a viable alternative to in-person education. Virtual education offers healthcare providers an opportunity to both enhance the care they provide to their patients and improve efficiency across the entire healthcare system.
Rush KL, Hatt L, Janke R, Burton L, et al. The Efficacy of Telehealth Delivered Educational Approaches for Patients with Chronic Diseases: A Systematic Review. Patient Educ Couns. 2018 Feb 15.