The Difference Between Patient Education and Health Literacy



Patient education is the practice of informing patients about their health, wellness, treatment plans, potential outcomes, and other information critical to the patient experience.

The goal of patient education is to instil a sense of autonomy in the patient and to equip her with the knowledge necessary to make her own healthcare decisions.

As a result, healthcare experts have hailed patient education as a critical aspect of shared decision-making and chronic care management.

Patients who fully understand their current wellness levels, their treatment options, and the potential consequences of each treatment option are well-prepared to offer input into how to carry onward with their care, said Peter Goldbach, MD.

If patients can successfully and clearly communicate a piece of information using their own words, providers can conclude that patients understand the concept. Patients who repeat information in their own words tend to absorb information faster than patients who just listen.

Other healthcare professionals rely on patient data access to help improve patient education. A recent OpenNotes study showed that patients who can view clinician notes and offer feedback can better participate in their own health. OpenNotes also helped improve patient safety.

The CDC defines health literacy as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.”

Health literacy is the end goal to strong patient education. Providers who successfully educate their patients will help patients better understand their own health, allowing patients to interact with the healthcare industry in the following ways:

  • Find information and services
  • Communicate their needs and preferences and respond to information and services
  • Process the meaning and usefulness of the information and services
  • Understand the choices, consequences and context of the information and services
  • Decide which information and services match their needs and preferences so they can act

A separate study also published in JMIR indicated that patients who manage a chronic condition, have more experience with the healthcare industry, and who have higher educational attainment tend to have higher health literacy.

However, clinicians should note that chronic care management patients likely accumulate this health literacy through years of industry involvement and patient education from their providers.

It’s not likely there will ever be a one-size-fits-all guide to identifying a patient with high health literacy. As a result, clinicians must integrate strong patient education strategies into all their patient engagement efforts.

Healthcare providers can improve patient activation and ultimately drive person-centered care by offering all patients the chance to improve their health literacy.

Leave a Reply