Effective Patient Education Strategies and How Using Visuals Helps Change Patient Behavior

By Jennifer Abayowa, May 27, 2021

Patient Education

Your ultimate goal is to teach your patients to make better-informed decisions about their health. But, perhaps, your patient education strategies fall short of achieving this goal.

Could it be that your patient education materials lack effective visuals? How can you actually change patient behavior?

The best infographics are attention-grabbing and immensely engaging. Carefully selected visuals in infographics are what you need to motivate your patients and improve your patient education efforts.

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about how to use patient education to actually change patient behavior with better visuals, from effective patient education strategies to overcoming barriers in learning and matching visuals to specific patient types.

If you are searching for patient education visuals to make an impact in your patients’ lives, Venngage offers a simple design platform for healthcare communications with appealing visuals for patient education.


 

Click to jump ahead:

 

What is patient education?

About 6 in 10 Americans are living with a chronic disease in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And these chronic conditions cost $3.8 trillion annually.

Patient education with visuals can help decrease this burden.

Patient education is the process of influencing patient behavior and producing the changes in knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to maintain or improve health.

Patient Education

Patient education materials should inspire patients to make a positive change in their habits. Your infographics should make patients have a light-bulb moment that self-care and self-management are possible concepts, even with chronic conditions.

Patient education should not only be about giving information to patients. It should go beyond that to unlock meaningful conversations.

Health education should “foster the motivation, skills, and confidence (self-efficacy) necessary to take action to improve health,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

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How can I effectively educate patients?

Effective patient education requires proven strategies that have been tried and tested for decades.

About 65% of people are visual learners, according to a study in the Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience journal. And since most people learn visually, your patient education efforts should incorporate catchy infographics.

To effectively educate patients, your medical education resources should implement the strategies below.

Patient Education


 

Let’s explore in more details about effective patient education strategies:

1. Use plain, non-medical language

Break medical concepts down to the simplest terms—your patients are not experts in medical lingo.

Plain language helps patients grasp information quickly, especially busy professionals. Non-medical language prompts patients to quickly seek medical care, take advantage of vaccinations, and receive preventative care.

Using simple, everyday language together with visuals can definitely help convey the message better. For example, the infographic below uses simple language like, “Avoid sugar,” and “Stop biting your nails,” to help patients avoid getting sick.

Patient education


 

2. Teach patients skills for self-management

For patients living with chronic medical conditions, your aim should be to educate them to live a complete life even with their chronic illness.

With self-management education programs, your patients will increase their confidence, personal control, and self-efficacy.

The infographic below from the National Jewish Health is a good example of a self-management visual that you can use to help your patients learn how to live with diabetes. This template can not only increase your productivity but also save your patient education efforts.

Patient Education

Copyright© National Jewish Health. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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3. Show or draw pictures

Creative imagery brings language to life and gets people’s attention, especially those who are visual learners.

Patient education materials are more impactful with pictures or drawings that support the text.

The infographic below is great at using a drawing of human anatomy to help patients understand what’s going on inside their bodies when there’s an immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Patient Education

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Related: How to Identify Patient Learning Styles: Teaching Patients More Effectively with Infographics

4. Use storytelling

Both healthcare professionals and patients benefit from various forms of storytelling.

When you use storytelling in your practice, you create a memorable interaction that your patients won’t forget easily.

Sometimes, numbers can look too complex to patients. Venngage infographics are great for helping you tell a story with data.

Storytelling can also draw on your patients’ emotions. The emotions of adults usually come from past or current events. Your patients’ emotions will motivate them to learn.

Also, listening to your patients tell their stories can help you accommodate cultural differences, and promote tolerance, empathy, and sensitivity.

The infographic below tells the story of how the Save a Life Foundation was created, and how many lives are depending on organ donors. The use of charts, graphs and pictograms help visualize the data and make it easier for readers to grasp the information.

Patient Education


 

5. Use robust patient education materials

Everyone loves options!

One effective strategy in patient education is to provide multiple materials so that your patient can pick and choose based on their learning styles.

Patient teaching materials can include:

  • Written materials
  • Graphics (including infographics)
  • Posters or charts
  • Audiotapes/Podcasts
  • YouTube videos
  • Videotapes or DVDs
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Demonstration using models or props
  • Education portals
  • Traditional lectures or group classes
  • Verbal teaching
  • Discussions

In addition to infographics, Venngage has various presentation templates that you can use for patient teaching, like this presentation deck:

Patient Education


 

6. Integrate modern methods of patient education

Patient education has evolved over the years.

Modern methods of patient education include:

  • Technology resources. Patients can use their smartphones to find medical information on the web.
  • Social media. Tech-savvy patients can consume health information from Social Media.
  • Mobile health apps. These can work in conjunction with specialists to integrate support for the management of chronic diseases.
  • Telehealth services. Clinicians can now educate patients via telehealth portals that include videos and messaging.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. Using AI, physicians can analyze patient data to personalize patient education.

Use visuals that point to other technology resources to help patients increase their knowledge by using smartphones or apps. The infographic template below can can teach your patients how to download your virtual healthcare app, which can help you accelerate patient education.

Patient Education


 

You can edit this template and download it as an Interactive PDF to send to patients, or send it as an email.

7. Use the teach-back method

Patients often forget information after they are discharged. And even when they recall some details, almost half of the recalled information is inaccurate.

So after you’ve used plain language to explain concepts to your patients, you should also ask them to explain the details back to you in their own words. This technique is called the teach-back method.

Studies show that the teach-back method is an effective patient education strategy which leads to improved patient satisfaction with medication education, discharge information, and health management.

For example, after giving hand-washing instructions, you can ask patients to explain how they should wash their hands (and maybe even ask them what songs they’d like to use). You can also send them the infographic below as a nice reminder:

Patient Education


 

8. Spend more time with patients

As challenging as health scheduling may be, healthcare providers need to increase the time spent with patients.

The chart below by Statista shows the amount of time physicians spent with patients as of 2018.

Patient Education

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One study implemented a one-hour personalized session with a discharge nurse. The extra time spent with the patient results in the following benefits:

  • Improved clinical outcomes: reduced re-hospitalization or death by 35%.
  • Increased heart failure self-care practices: regular weight measurements, strict sodium restriction, and cessation of cigarette smoking.
  • Reduced medical costs: reduction in re-hospitalization rates led to decreased medical costs (by $2,823) over the 180-day follow-up period.

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What are the top 10 barriers to effective patient education?

Patient education is great, but clinicians and patients alike experience certain barriers that prevent a smooth flow of patient teaching.

So what are the top 10 barriers to patient education? Let’s take a look.

Patient Education

Here’s some more details on these 10 patient education barriers:

1. Fear

Your patient may need to overcome fear before being open to teaching. Scientifically, fear increases the human heart rate and produces a surge of stress hormones, which can hinder learning.

2. Receptive to teaching

Some patients embrace learning. Others need nudging and encouragement from their clinicians.

3. Health status

Adjust your education plan based on the level of your patient’s health status. Materials about the early stage of a disease may not be beneficial if the patient’s disease has progressed.

4. Lack of time

Due to strict scheduling, physicians often do not have enough time to educate patients. The results of a focus group study show that there is a big difference between learning for two hours and only having two or three minutes.

According to Krzywkowski-Mohn, patients feel “rushed and unable to voice all questions and concerns” when they have a short time with their doctors.

5. Complex issues

Patient education can be challenging because sometimes healthcare providers need to tackle multiple issues at once. For example, to tackle obesity, you may need to discuss nutrition, exercise, peer influence, and stress from your patient’s circumstances.

6. Rising healthcare costs

In trying to save costs, patients tend to spend less time in the hospital before procedures such as surgery. Therefore, nurses and physicians have less time to teach patients about such procedures.

7. Invisible results

Patients may not be interested in making changes to their health when there are no visible “dramatic results.” For example, effective patient education may result in a heart attack that doesn’t occur or lung cancer that doesn’t form.

8. Licensing for telehealth services

It can be challenging for healthcare providers to get the licensing for telehealth services.

9. Capacity to handle information

Individuals have different limits when it comes to handling sensitive information. Give your patient only the amount of information they can handle at a time.

10. Lack of knowledge and skill level of health providers

Clinicians, nurses, and health educators need to keep updating their training on patient education.

Now that you know these barriers, what would be the right way to address them?

Venngage visuals can help address some these barriers to effective patient education.

Patient education materials that have visuals such as pictures, drawings, and charts can make learning faster and address barriers such as insufficient time. The simpler and catchier your visuals are, the easier patients can follow.

Also, by showing empathy in your patient education visuals, you can alleviate the feeling of fear or concern that patients struggle with when they come into the doctor’s office. This infographic highlights how common strokes are, but it also emphasizes that they can be prevented:

Patient Education


 

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What is a nurse’s role in patient education and health literacy concepts?

Nurses make up the bulk of the nation’s healthcare professions. Approximately 3.8 million nurses are registered RNs in the US. Therefore, nursing patient teaching is critical to overall patient education.

Surprisingly, nurses have the highest rate of no prior health literacy knowledge of all medical professionals.

Healthcare institutions need to provide nurses with the necessary tools and curricula to assess patient health literacy and nursing patient education.

To improve their role in patient education, nurses need to learn the following health literacy concepts:

Cultural competence

Cultural competence respects and considers a person’s cultural background, cultural beliefs, and values, and incorporates this knowledge into their health care.

Minorities often have language barriers. Nurses can use resources for patients who do not speak the same languages as they do, for example, interpreter services.

Tools to assess patients’ health literacy levels

Some examples of assessment tools include the Test for Functional Health Literacy (TOFHLA) and the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM).

Skills to handle patients with low health literacy

Nurses need to be aware that there are vulnerable populations with low health literacy. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has developed a toolkit to help healthcare providers eliminate health literacy barriers.

Patient Education

Some recommendations in the AHRQ toolkit to reduce health literacy barriers include:

  • Train one staff member to evaluate the quality of materials you give to patients.
  • Check whether patient materials are easy to read and understand. You can use one of the assessments created by the AHRQ, the Centers for Diseases and Control (CDC), or the Suitability Assessment of Materials (SAM).
  • Ask patients to evaluate your forms and other written materials. They may provide helpful insights for making these materials better.
  • Watch out for numbers. Only include numbers that help make informed decisions.

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What are the 5 main types of patients?

Understanding the types of patients can help you determine the best visuals to use in your patient education materials.

Here’s a quick infographic on the 5 main types of patients:

Patient Education

Let’s learn more about each of them.

1. Passive-dependent

Patients who are trusting individuals are passive-dependent.

They depend on the authoritative figure, in this case, doctors and nurses, to make the main decisions in their healthcare plan.

Passive-dependent patients can benefit from Venngage infographics that have simple language with key takeaways.

2. Open-minded exploring

Patients who are open-minded exploring tend to look at health care as a collaboration between patients and doctors.

These patients seek a personal connection with their doctors or other health providers. They are usually open to exploring most options for their medical condition, including alternative medicine and treatments.

Also, emotional support is important for this type of patient.

3. Independent-skeptical

Patients who always question doctors are independent-skeptical.

They don’t accept every recommendation. They tend to seek second or even third opinions and chase after rational statements that are consistent with their knowledge.

4. Intellectual-researcher

Patients who always perform their literature searches belong to the intellectual-researcher type.

They desire scientific explanations for every piece of information. They check their doctors’ comments against scientific studies and often prefer doctors who work in prestigious healthcare institutions.

5. Expedient-flexible

Patients who are expedient-flexible tend to choose doctors based on current availability.

They don’t care much about checking every data or prestige. They are usually cost-conscious too, which makes them flexible in their choices for physicians.

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Patient education FAQs

  1. Why is patient education important?
  2. What is the first step in patient education?
  3. What are the top 3 patient education topics?
  4. What is the main purpose of patient education?
  5. What are the main patient education concepts?

 

Why is patient education important?

Researchers have studied the benefits of patient education for decades.

All the evidence points to the fact that patients who receive superior patient education enjoy better health outcomes.

Here are 6 reasons why patient education is important:

1. Patient education decreases anxiety

When patients have a high level of certainty, they are less anxious. Patient education materials can decrease anxiety by explaining warning signs and complications.

Of course, no one can ever be 100% certain or prepared. However, a high level of certainty makes patients more confident about what signs to watch for.

For example, the infographic below is helpful for quickly determining whether symptoms are COVID-19-related or from a common cold, flu, or allergies.

Patient Education


 

2. Patient education increases adherence and compliance

Patients differ in their abilities to understand and comply with health-related materials and instructions.

Helping patients understand their medical conditions increases engagement, which leads to adherence and compliance. A patient who understands the “why” is more inclined to follow the doctor’s orders.

For example, this patient education infographic encourages patients not to skip their medicines because doing so is bad for their health.

Patient Education

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3. Patient education increases symptom improvement

One study of asthma patients showed that the use of digital technology resources led to improvement in symptoms.

Patient education helps patients learn how to manage their chronic medical conditions. For example, this infographic by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is great for illustrating how chronic conditions are tied to a patient’s daily diet.

Patient Education

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4. Patient education increases knowledge

Patient education increases patients’ understanding of medical conditions.

Armed with the right knowledge, patients can improve their attitudes toward preventive health. Knowledge also helps patients use the correct methods and procedures at home.

An example of patient education that increases knowledge is this infographic that educates patients on how to prevent catching and spreading the coronavirus.

Patient education


 

5. Patient education increases satisfaction

Easy access to digital health resources (E-health) increases patient satisfaction.

Using patient education tools, clinicians can also help patients navigate the healthcare system and maintain their data.

Patients who are in control of their health and completely engaged in the decision-making process have a higher level of satisfaction.

Infographics that teach patients how to navigate resources are beneficial. For example, this infographic by the American College of Cardiology teaches patients how to search for the right hospital for heart health.

Patient Education

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6. Patient education reduces hospital readmission rates

About one in five patients discharged from hospitals have complications within 30 days resulting in visits to the emergency room (ER) or readmission.

One of the reasons for re-hospitalization is low health literacy.

Physicians and nurses should assess patients for health literacy and create patient education materials that are at various levels of literacy.

 

What is the first step in patient education?

The first step in patient education is to understand the health literacy level of your patient.

Only after doing so can you match your patient education materials to their level of understanding and cultural beliefs.

 

What are the top 3 patient education topics?

On a global scale, most patient education resources cover these top 3 topics:

  • Physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco use

 

What is the main purpose of patient education?

The main purpose of patient education is to help patients enjoy better health outcomes.

Patient education influences patients’ behaviors and motivates them to make changes in their knowledge, attitudes, and skills to help them maintain or improve their health.

 

What are the main patient education concepts?

Patient education concepts provide a framework for clinicians to teach patients.

Before you start teaching, get familiar with these patient education theoretical concepts:

1. Health literacy

According to WHO, health literacy “represents the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand, and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health.”

In 2011, about 80 million Americans had low health literacy. This is nearly half of all US adults.

However, not all physicians feel that health literacy is a major concern, and this needs to change.

In a survey, 77% of physicians felt that health literacy was only a moderate obstacle. But that’s not true. Health literacy can be a great obstacle.

Shockingly, patients may have a high overall literacy but still have a low health literacy.

People with low health literacy:

  • Have poorer overall health
  • Do not adhere to medications
  • Use more health and emergency services
  • Wait longer before seeking medical help

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People with low health literacy “struggle with even the most basic tasks—for example, using a search function, navigating from a drop-down menu, and scanning a webpage for relevant information,” according to Health.gov.

Factors that affect health literacy include:

  • Poverty
  • Education
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Age
  • Disability

2. The health belief model

Patients’ beliefs, whether religious, cultural, ethnic, or any other kind of belief, can shape how they understand and process health information.

The health belief model states that:

“A person’s belief in a personal threat of an illness or disease together with a person’s belief in the effectiveness of the recommended health behavior or action will predict the likelihood the person will adopt the behavior.”

Patients have different beliefs regarding childbirth, death, the role of women, and the role of family. To be more effective, you need to respectfully ask patients about their beliefs before devising a patient education strategy.

Using a patient education infographic like the Contraceptive Methods Comparison template below shows that you understand your patients may have different beliefs about the “best” method of contraception. This comparison infographic is a great way to get your patients talking and asking questions.

Patient Education


 

3. The rational model

This is also called the Knowledge, Attitudes, Practices (KAP) model. The rational model suggests that increasing a patient’s knowledge will motivate them to make a behavioral change.

For example, patient education materials that list annual deaths from smoking apply the rational model.

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However, knowledge alone is not sufficient. Make sure you supplement the rational model with other concepts.

4. The extended parallel processing model (EPPM)

The EPPM model is also called “threat management or fear management.” A person’s rational and emotional beliefs can combine to determine how they will respond to patient education.

If patients feel threatened, they will respond positively. If they don’t feel threatened, they may not adhere to medications or comply with the doctor’s orders.

Fear appealing campaigns work in health education. This is because people take preventive steps when they are afraid.

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted clinicians and public health professionals to create several threat or fear management campaigns.

5. Communication theory

To provide effective patient education, you have to consider your targeted patient.

Communication theory is based on the premise that multilevel strategies are necessary depending on the person you are communicating with.

Patients have different levels of health literacy, so you should tailor your message to your specific patient.

The infographic below, Telemedicine in Your Community, is targeting patients who do not have any experience with telemedicine. Listing the steps to take, from checking wait times to starting your appointment, is helpful for new telemedicine patients.

Patient Education


 

For the full list of patient education concepts, check the World Health Organization (WHO) guide on health education.

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In a nutshell: An effective patient education strategy is one that incorporates the use of visuals

Patient education goes beyond teaching patients about medical conditions. Effective patient education materials influence and motivate people to make better-informed decisions about their health.

To provide the best patient education materials, healthcare providers must recognize that patients have various health care literacy levels and tailor their content to match these levels.

Doctors and nurses must also learn to incorporate religious, cultural, ethnic, or other kinds of belief systems into their patient education materials.

The most effective patient education strategies help patients improve their overall health outcomes by decreasing anxiety, increasing adherence and compliance, improving symptoms, reducing hospital readmission rates, and increasing knowledge and satisfaction.

To start incorporating visuals to your patient education strategies and materials, jump right in and start with Venngage for Healthcare. You can start designing an engaging, memorable patient teaching material for free, no design experience required.


 

 

 

About Jennifer Abayowa

Jennifer E. Abayowa is a Medical Writer and Editor, and the Founder of Health Prime Now Medical Writing. She creates evidence-based medical content for organizations. Her freelance content portfolio covers top Pharma and Fortune 500 companies, including Johnson & Johnson, P&G, and Medline. Her work has also been published on sites such as Healthline.com. You can find her on LinkedIn.