Beyond Brochures: Using Tech to Teach Patients

Published: Thursday, Aug 21, 2008
Cell phone applications, interactive video tutorials, online symptom navigators, and other high-tech tools are changing the way physicians approach patient education and are opening up new possibilities for patients seeking to learn more about their conditions and take control of their health.

In baseball, bats, balls, and gloves are commonly referred to as the “tools of the trade”—the equipment used by players to participate in and determine the outcome of the game. In medicine, tools of the trade have traditionally included a stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer by which physicians obtain information that can help them positively impact a patient’s health outcome. Those tools haven’t gone away, but healthcare providers have begun embracing new tools—technology tools, including cell phones, video, and the Internet—to help educate patients so they can make more informed decisions regarding their own health.

“When I was in training, the focus of medical care was in the hospital,” recalls Alan Greene, MD, chief medical officer at A.D.A.M., a leading provider of high-quality, technology-driven health information solutions. “Th en it was in the outpatient setting. More and more, it’s moving to where people are in their daily lives; the places where they’re making their healthcare decisions.” Enabling that decision-making is the technology that is putting information in healthcare consumers’ hands whenever they need it, wherever they might be.

THE CELL PHONE REVOLUTION

Peter Waegemann is chief executive officer of the Medical Records Institute and founder of the Center for Cell Phone Applications in Healthcare. An international leader in medical informatics, Waegemann believes that in the next 10 years, the cell phone will have the greatest impact on health information and technology. His vision is that in fi ve years time, “a large percentage of people, maybe even 100 million in this country, will have their basic health information on their cell phone.”

Waegemann says the cell phone can serve as the platform for consumer health-related

software, such as wellness-related programs and disease management programs. By off ering consumers health-related Internet access, cell phones can allow patients to quickly and easily look up information about medications or symptoms related to their health status.

Imagine a patient using her cell phone to look up a specifi c medication after it has been prescribed at a clinic visit, noting it interacts with another of her medications that she forgot to mention during the visit, and alerting her physician via the cell phone before the prescription is filled. “And it won’t only be for checking medications,” says Waegemann. “It will be for making decisions. When a consumer has a pain, they may not go to their doctor. Instead, they may look for advice on the Internet using their cell phone.”

Waegemann’s vision is already taking shape. The A.D.A.M. Symptom Navigator for the iPhone and new iPhone 3G is a free application introduced last month that is designed to help consumers match medical symptoms with relevant assessments and appropriate treatments. Adapted from A.D.A.M.’s standard edition of the Symptom Navigator, which is the backbone of many medical websites, including the National Library of Medicine, the tool addresses possible causes of symptoms and medical conditions, how to self-treat, when you should call a doctor, and how to prevent it in the future.

Symptom Navigator resides on the Web. A button on the iPhone’s screen quickly brings up an image of the human body. By touching the part of the body of interest, users are presented with a menu of related symptoms and walked through the possible causes, home care, and when to consult their doctor. “As a physician, it’s wonderful for me to know my patients have access to

this kind of quality data,” says Greene. “It makes patient discussions with physicians richer, deeper, and more efficient.”

WEB-BASED VIDEOS

Patricia Raymond, MD, FACP, FACG, a board-certified physician in gastroenterology and internal medicine in Chesapeake, VA, performs many colonoscopies as direct access, meaning that patients do not actually meet her prior to the procedure. As a result, she needed a way to educate her patients while also promoting some degree of bonding and familiarity. “If you’re going to come in and have me drop a sixfoot-long tube in your bottom, it better feel at least like you know me a little,” Raymond says.  She put up a website, from which patients could view videos of her answering questions about colonoscopy.

Developing the script/answers to the questions was easy, says Raymond. She’d always been asked the same questions by patients over and over, so she wrote them down and divided them into pieces, or video clips, that were informative yet short enough that they wouldn’t lock up a patient’s computer during download. Total time for all the video components combined is


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