News from the frontline: Improving outcomes through education

9-May-2022

Practicing GP, Alice Wood, talks about how patient education and engagement is fundamentally important when it comes to improving a patient’s ability to manage their health and improve their health outcomes. And she reveals the role of technology in delivering this

Patient education and engagement is fundamentally important when it comes to improving a person’s ability to manage their health and improve their wellbeing, and even their health outcomes.

“Insufficient health literacy can lead to health disparities, an increased use of the health system, and poor health outcomes,” said Dr Alice Wood, a GP in Buckinghamshire and interim clinical director at health information provider, Cognitant.

“But, while the influence on health from education is huge, without evaluating its performance, how can we measure its true impact on health outcomes?”

Not only do healthcare operators need to ensure that patient education drives the improvements in outcomes for which it is designed, but they also need to be able to demonstrate a return on investment.

Education, education, education

Dr Wood said: “In the past, measuring the impact of health education programmes has typically been limited to a one-off measure of knowledge acquisition, sometimes comparing a group of people who received the education with a control group who did not.

Big data and digital technology can change the game by opening new avenues for modern healthcare and delivering true value for the health outcomes patients experience

“However, this method does not capture the education’s impact on health outcomes.”

But progress in technology in recent years, and the fact a large number of people now own smart devices, is opening up new avenues.

With the latest technology patients can monitor key vitals such as heart rate, glucose levels, blood pressure, and blood oxygen saturation level through wearable devices and share this data with clinicians.

This means a person’s health outputs can be measured over time, allowing for analysis of the data and a correlation with the health education delivered.

However, probably the greatest opportunity for revolutionising how patient education is evaluated is big data.

Dr Wood said: “Big data analytics offers a range of exciting opportunities when it comes to measuring the benefits of health education.

The impact of big data

“Having a wider data set means it is now possible to connect patient records to build up a picture of how people manage their health.

“And trials can also be conducted with bigger groups, either online via surveys or though apps.”

Cognitant has embraced this approach by comparing the impact of written health information with avatar-led digital education programmes in patients with diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

Not only did the results find that the response was positive, but they were able to test patients’ knowledge over time.

“Big data combined with using questionnaires to measure patients’ subjective views about their health could help with identifying problems early and allow them to receive specialist care more rapidly,” explains Dr Wood.

While the influence on health from education is huge, without evaluating its performance, how can we measure its true impact on health outcomes?

But she warns: “When carrying out any form of health education the first thing to think about is the impact on the health outcome you want to achieve.

“The second is to look at whether it is measurable.

“If we want to measure knowledge this should not be one off. Instead, we need to test knowledge over time as this will ultimately impact on health.

“Increasingly, thanks to digital technology, these things are now measurable because they are more accessible.”

And studies which measure the impact on health education can be carried out through observational studies or randomised control studies (RCTs).

The latter ensures balance between the group of participants and prevents bias, but there needs to be logic to it so that the study makes a difference and has an impact on health outcomes.

“Simply carrying out observational analysis lacks matching and comparable data as it is difficult to control the variables,” warns Dr Wood.

The future

“Measuring the outcomes of patient education is essential for determining its value and the broader impact on our communities.

“But, in order to measure the impact of education, both in terms of health improvements and retention of knowledge over time, we need to be able to analyse health outputs using large data sets.

In order to measure the impact of education, both in terms of health improvements and retention of knowledge over time, we need to be able to analyse health outputs using large data sets

“These could be data from wearables, patient records, or from patient-reported information.

“For example, by linking up electronic medical records with symptom trackers the data sets would be much larger, giving a clearer picture of how they are impacting people.

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“Ultimately, big data and digital technology can change the game by opening new avenues for modern healthcare and delivering true value for the health outcomes patients experience.”

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