Teaching Patients How to Teach Themselves

by Dr. Sara Rusch, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria

More and more people now live with chronic diseases, which cannot be cured but can be successfully managed. Examples of common chronic diseases are hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, asthma, chronic lung disease and congestive heart failure. Successful management requires that the patient be an active participant in his or her own care. Therefore, it is critical that patients be well educated so they can understand, provide input and adhere to their treatment regimens. Better management of chronic diseases prevents complications and hospitalizations, resulting in a healthier patient and lower medical costs. UICOMP’s vision to “Lead Collaboration to Improve Health” includes an important role in community education.

The questions regarding patient education are:

  • How do you reach patients of diverse educational and cultural backgrounds?
  • How do you teach patients when they are ready to listen? 
  • How can you address the diversity of questions? 
  • How can you be sure that the information patients receive is accurate?

UICOMP’s “Living Healthy” series uses a combined approach to community education. Audience members hear local experts discuss important health-related topics, but even the best lecturer cannot teach everything an audience might wish to know. Also, it is not easy to convince patients to go out into the cold and attend a wintertime lecture. So with each session, we provide a series of internet-accessible “trusted sites” that participants can use and share with friends and family.

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” We believe that teaching patients in an interactive lecture setting gives them a fish by providing important healthcare information. But we also believe that if we teach them how to access quality healthcare websites, we have taught them how to fish, and they will be able to access health information for a lifetime.

My favorite website for community education is medlineplus.gov. It has informative slide shows, effective tools for disease management, updated information on medications, explanations of medical procedures and many other useful resources. Patient education is provided in several languages. MedlinePlus is managed by the National Library of Medicine and contains links to other trusted sites.

In addition, our “Living Healthy” website (livinghealthy.peoria.uic.edu) includes a listing of trusted sites linked to the session topics. If you are interested in a hard-to-find topic, our Library of the Health Sciences is open to the public. You can learn more about this important community resource by calling (309) 671-8490 or logging on to uic.edu/depts/lib/lhsp.

Education is an important part of improving community health, particularly when it comes to managing chronic diseases. Teaching patients how to teach themselves is an important part of accomplishing UICOMP’s vision to “Lead Collaboration to Improve Health.” iBi