Empowering patients with education

Empowering patients with education
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Article Author:

Vanessa Carter (#hcsmSA)
Vanessa is an award-winning entrepreneur and was a creative director for 18 years. She is a professional ePatient activist for MRSA (Antibiotic Resistance) and Facial Differences from South Africa. She is an advisory board member for Doctors 2.0 and You, EyeforPharma, InfectionControl.Tips as well as The Walking Gallery of Healthcare by Regina Holliday. Read more here.


Empowering patients with education
Patient education is an incredibly important part of informed consent and patient safety. Education and engagement should give patients information in an accessible and clear format so that they understand on equal levels. It is becoming imperative to re-frame our patient education resources which are provided in South African healthcare so that we empower patients and promote a healthier population.

This Lancet article suggests that “Patient education is one of the critical links between access to medication and the appropriate use of drugs”. A WHO article about genomic medicine, reiterates these rights by saying  “Assuring that the rights of patients are protected requires more than educating policy makers and health providers; it requires educating citizens about what they should expect from their governments and their health care providers—about the kind of treatment and respect they are owed. Citizens, then, can have an important part to play in elevating the standard of care when their own expectations of that care are raised”.


Patient education in terms of best marketing practice
Most people know me as an ePatient activist and the hcsmSA (Healthcare Social Media) community moderator. What most don’t know is that I was also an entrepreneur and owned an advertising company for eighteen years. The combination of both my patient and marketing experience enabled me to identify certain key issues pertaining to a lack of adequate educational resources provided to patients online and within public health facilities. In terms of my experience with antibiotic resistance (MRSA), a large contributing factor was due to a lack of information to understand the importance of adherence and direction to managing my condition effectively. This placed risk on both me and my community. As an ePatient, I naturally turned to Dr. Google during this period, but I felt the system could have done more.
During the past few years, I have photographed some of the marketing material I’ve seen inside various public hospitals. I felt much of our patient education was uninformative as a patient and as a marketing professional. Most of our advertising media is outdated and contains difficult terminology for the average patient, even as an English speaking citizen I battled. I’ve previously worked with the printing industry to develop major campaigns so I was able to calculate the extensive cost of production and taxpayer’s money. Posters and leaflets won’t lose their value entirely, we experienced that shift within the advertising industry when digital marketing expanded in the corporate sector, but whilst this digital migration takes place, we should at minimum design more consciously for the patient’s specific needs and upscale our creativity. Printed media will also be an important contact point to educate patients about online resources like mobile apps. Below are several examples of posters I studied in two different public hospitals in Johannesburg.



Based on these examples, the complex medical terminology coupled with the content in English were my main concern. Many posters in public facilities were displayed in other languages in Gauteng, but that still didn’t address the patients with additional barriers like illiteracy or disability. It didn’t empower each individual who needed to understand their condition better. In the printing industry, producing variations are costly, such as the different languages, because a plate must be manufactured for each design. In future, it might be more practical to install digital screens in the hospital waiting areas. Investment for digital advertising hardware is substantial initially, but to produce the patient education is much lower than that of print production and designs are adaptable in real-time. Further to this, advertising can be sold to the private and corporate sector to raise funding for our hospitals. Leaflets are an advisable “take-home” to retain and cater for patients who do not have access to the internet. A globally-driven corporate should assist with a hospital magazine, it is self-sustainable on an advertising business model and beneficial to their brand considering the feet through the doors.

Inadequate patient education also places a burden on our doctors and nurses because they have to educate each and every patient repetitively, it should be strategically designed to empower both patient and doctor.


HCP internet education
Improving our HCP’s internet skills is going to be imperative to the future sustainability of our health system. One of the objectives of creating hcsmSA was to develop CPD training to teach HCPs the medical applications of social media and the correct use of the web for research. Part of these technical web skills include how to disseminate patient education online. A good example of an effective patient education resource could be a dedicated Youtube channel focusing on a specific disease such as AIDS. Another could be a disease focused website (e.g. www.aids.gov.za) which provides curated resources in one place. Central channels online act as an effective solution towards simplifying the navigation process for patients, therefore it empowers them. It also empowers doctors because they can refer their patients to a specific site or link it to their own.

Government or pharmaceutical companies should be responsible for this unless corporate want branding benefits and patient organisations should be included in the co-design process when possible to ensure accurate content. Public hospital websites should also be scrutinised on an ongoing basis and this is best performed through patient feedback collected through online surveys, public communities or portals and other means.

Some patients will continue to search the web for a deeper understanding of their condition, but a larger portion of our population might benefit from a structured navigation process. Content and design are crucial to consider for each user. The benefit in videos or animation is that they can be narrated in various languages or subtitles can appear which address literacy, disability (e.g. blindness) and language barriers. Avatars, otherwise known as virtual assistants on mobile apps are also useful for addressing these. Storytelling is also an effective means to capture the attention of patients because they relate and the impact on their decision-making is higher. Creativity is key to impact, click here to view an excellent example for hand-washing using videography.

Below is another example of an animated video including narration with special thanks to Nucleus Medical Media

Patient communities could also lower the need for patients to seek out assistance at public facilities. Numerous communities have already been created to provide peer-to-peer support for example with Facebook groups. One popular type of community has been parents of children with special needs who empower each other through their own experience. Data collected from these collectives also has more agility.

Our health providers take for granted that the internet is a place where patients can freely find the information they need to empower themselves with knowledge. If a patient is not digitally literate or information is broadly dispersed and difficult to navigate it can add years to their recovery, congest our system because they seek out continuous support and are more exposed to complications among other criteria. Technology is an enabler for patients, but not on its own, carefully strategized methods of design thinking and advertising which are focused on empowering each individual with the appropriate knowledge will be just as critical. I’m also somehow questioning whether educated users would improve information flow patterns in our digital health systems.

“Design thinking is all about upgrading within constraints.” In its simplest form, design thinking is a process—applicable to all walks of life—of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems” – Tim Brown, IDEO



DIGITAL HEALTH ACTIVIST IN SOUTH AFRICA Vanessa is a design thinker and entrepreneur with 20 years in advertising and 10 years of patient experience in the private and public health sector in South Africa due to a face reconstruction. She is an international ePatient speaker and a digital health activist. She is the founder of #hcsmSA (Health Care Social Media South Africa), which is a geographic community she hopes will connect all aspects of healthcare on one central database. Connecting health virtually can improve networking, genomics data, education, access to treatment, online participation, problem solving and innovation. Vanessa was a creative director for Artext, a branding company which she established in 1997. Artext were nominated in the top 25 entrepreneurs at the National Small Business Chamber of Commerce (NSBC) in 2013. Vanessa believes that small business shouldn't be underestimated in the growth of the economy and that an "underdog" driven by passion and vision can accomplish anything. She was awarded the Woman of Substance, Woman of the Year Award in 2015 for her commitment to female entrepreneurship, community work and digital health activism. - Member of the HelloHealthcare Network - Primary Healthcare Providers in South Africa - International Ambassador, Video Judge and Speaker for Doctors 2.0 & You, Paris (Associated to Stanford University - MedX) - Honorary Ambassador for Doctor Gratis - First African Digital Health Activist in #TheWalkingGallery of healthcare in Washington D.C. Her Jacket is called Reconcilliation and represents equality in healthcare through Participatory Medicine. - Awarded a Scholarship in 2015 from the Society for Participatory Medicine (S4PM) in recognition of her articles. - Member of the Society for Participatory Medicine - P4 Medicine - First South African ePatient to moderate a global health tweetchat