Do we have a failure to communicate?

September 8, 2021
Effective patient education is the cornerstone to better-informed decision-making skills and better health outcomes, but when was the last time you evaluated your own communication skills?
Doctor of optometry communicating with patient

A proliferation of health care misinformation, especially during the pandemic, serves as a poignant reminder in the criticality of care teams’ patient communication and education—skills often taken for granted in clinical practice.

“Good” communication that promotes patient engagement with the health care team, builds trust and leads to enhanced health literacy or therapy compliance is associated with greater health outcomes, and consequently, “poor” communication creates a barrier to care that can reduce such outcomes. But communication skills aren’t necessarily a clinical prowess that doctors or staff self-evaluate on a routine basis—and that’s something that should change.

“Effective communication is a skill that all health care professionals need, but one that not all are naturally good at,” says Roya Attar, O.D., director of optometric services at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“Research has shown that individuals who receive effective patient education make better-informed decisions and have better health outcomes. Unfortunately, delivering patient education effectively is often overlooked in doctoral education and staff training, yet it is a crucial aspect of patient care.”

Effectively communicating patient education is the topic of one of Dr. Attar’s continuing education (CE) courses offered during the AOA’s 2021 Virtual Learning Livecast on Friday, Oct. 1. The two-hour, online session is oriented toward providing doctors and paraoptometric staff with strategies that enhance communication, especially on the importance of eye exams, early diagnosis and intervention, and adherence to treatment regimens.

The course will offer a step-by-step guide with a focus on building trust through meaningful patient interactions, as well as address special communication considerations for specific audiences, e.g., pediatric or geriatric patients.

“Health care professionals interact with patients from a wide range of educational, cultural and social backgrounds in a single day, and they must do so in an effective, caring and professional manner,” Dr. Attar says. “Even in our current high-tech age, patients seek and value the advice of their doctors.”

As primary care providers, doctors of optometry are uniquely positioned to positively influence their patient health outcomes through patient education, Dr. Attar emphasizes. Take the example of demonstrating proper eye drop instillation with glaucoma patients to increase treatment efficacy and compliance. That trusted relationship also is critical in countering the false information that does circulate in our contemporary, high-tech age—something particularly evident as the COVID-19 public health emergency continues.

Effective patient education in the misinformation age

Given the current surge in COVID-19 cases derivative of the virus’ delta variant, the U.S. Surgeon General recently called on all health care providers, including doctors of optometry, to proactively educate Americans about accessing and identifying accurate health information.

“Health misinformation is an urgent threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust and undermine public health efforts, including our ongoing work to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” noted U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., in July. “From the tech and social media companies who must do more to address the spread on their platforms, to all of us identifying and avoiding sharing misinformation, tackling this challenge will require an all-of-society approach, but it is critical for the long-term health of our nation.”

To support this public health effort and help patients in your communities, the AOA compiled helpful recommendations on engaging patients in a discussion regarding their health, identifying accurate health information and making informed health decisions regarding COVID-19, vaccinations and other health care needs. These steps include:

  • Proactively engaging with patients and the public on factual health information.
  • Promoting accurate and evidence-based sources, including CDC information, with other doctors and staff in your office.
  • Partnering with community groups and local organizations to prevent and address health misinformation.
  • Using technology and media platforms to share accurate health information with the public.

Download the AOA’s fact sheet and access additional information on health misinformation from the Surgeon General’s office.

Earn CE in patient communication at the Virtual Learning Livecast

Interested in learning more about effective communication skills and patient education techniques that can help build patient trust and treatment compliance? Consider attending Dr. Attar’s two-hour, online CE course—intended for both doctors and paraoptometrics—during the AOA 2021 Virtual Learning Livecast, Oct. 1-2. Here’s what you need to know to register for this course: 

What: A Guide to Effectively Communicating Patient Education
8-10 p.m. CT, Friday, Oct. 1 (online)
Who: Integrated OD/Para course; AOA credit and CPC credit 

Part of the year-long continuum of AOA education headlined by Optometry’s Meeting®, this year’s Virtual Learning Livecast offers 32 expert-led courses and panel discussions with AOA, COPE and CPC credit available and the opportunity to earn up to 12 credit hours in online education suitable for the entire practice. Conveniently offered after clinic and classroom hours, the Virtual Learning Livecast is an easy way for doctors, paraoptometrics and students to earn CE and professional development without ever leaving their home.

Best of all, AOA member doctors and associate-member paraoptometrics can register for this educational opportunity at member-discounted rates. But space is limited and courses are filling fast, so register today and reserve your virtual seat in this and other contemporary, optometric education.

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