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Take Two Stories and Call Me in the Morning: Patient Education Goes Both Ways

March 23, 2015

A couple of years ago, I sat in front of my computer looking up the drug information for the two tiny pills rolling around in the orange prescription bottle in my hand.

Sedatives.

That’s what they were, according to the Internet. One was to be taken that night. The other, the following morning right before my outpatient surgery. Why had my doctor given me sedatives if I wasn’t anxious? He had assured me that I would only be there for a few hours. And that I wouldn’t feel any pain. Nor would I remember a thing, thanks to conscious sedation. So what was there to worry about?

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Uh oh.

It was only then that the panic began to set in. I navigated to my doctor’s website, frantically searching through the ‘information for patients’ tab for the reassurance that everything was going to be okay.

My eyes led me to a section titled ‘Patient Stories.’ Two video thumbnails featured a couple of smiling faces. I clicked on the first video and a woman’s face came into view, with her name, Jamie,* at the bottom of the screen.

“So the nurse asked me my name and date of birth. Then she asked if I was allergic to anything,” she said. “Then while she was starting my IV, she asked me if I’d read any good books lately. I started telling her about this James Patterson book that I really liked. Next thing I know, I was looking at that same nurse, and she was telling me that my surgery was over. I said ‘excuse me?’ I thought she was kidding.” Jamie’s smile broadened, and she laughed, as if someone had just told her the punchline of a great joke.

The screen faded to black for a second, then she returned, smiling again. “So… it’s important to bring a driver, because even though I was awake and felt fine, I was a little lightheaded, and couldn’t drive myself home when it was over. Just go home and take it easy, like they tell you to do at discharge. ”

I found myself leaning forward, nodding, as if we were having a conversation.

In the next video, Beth* shared that she’d experienced a lot of the same anxiety that I’d just been feeling . “I was so stressed out about having surgery I couldn’t think about anything but the surgery since it was scheduled. But once it happened, it was so easy that I wish I’d gotten it out of the way sooner. I don’t remember anything happening. I didn’t feel any pain. The pain that I felt afterwards wasn’t bad at all and the medication helped keep it under control. I was back to work in no time and now I feel fine.”

The video ended with Beth smiling. Next to her, frozen on the screen, was Jamie, still smiling. And on my face, I could feel it still – the smile that had slowly formed while watching them. What had just happened? In a little under two minutes, my attitude toward my surgery had completely transformed. My expectations had changed.

There is a multitude of ways to deliver patient education, and while every different method has its own value, the videos of Beth and Jamie were two of the most powerful that I’ve personally encountered. In my situation, I was a patient with very distinct needs – some informational, but mostly emotional. The testimonial videos of Beth and Jamie gave me what no written patient handout could, and what my doctor himself could not give me alone – reassurance, authenticity, and peace of mind.

Did all of that impact my anxiety level before, during and after my surgery? Yes it did.

Did it impact my perception of my pain? Or lack thereof? Absolutely.

Did it help me sleep like a baby through the night before my surgery?  You bet it did.

Did I remember all of this when it came time for me to respond on a patient satisfaction survey? Without question, yes.

I gave my doctor and his team high marks and kudos, and mentioned the videos on their website as having been a key part of my positive patient experience. To be sure, my doctor didn’t just stumble upon the idea to use those videos at random. He’s a good listener and a strategic thinker. He recognized that patient education goes both ways; that healthcare professionals not only educate their patients, but patients turn around and educate them right back. They ask questions. They share their worries and fears. They tell their stories, and in doing so, they teach their doctors, nurses and other caregivers how to take better care of them.  

And when stories are told, the really smart doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals listen.

But the BRILLIANT ones do more than that. They harness the power of stories to entertain and inspire; to soothe and reassure. They use stories to inform and transform the entire patient experience. Most importantly, they capitalize on the power of stories to turn information into meaningful, memorable education.  

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”  - Muriel Rukeyser

I’d love to hear from you. How does patient education go both ways in your hospital?  How do you find your patients’ stories, and most importantly, what do you do with them? Email me at amy.mora@telehealth.com


*Names have been changed to protect privacy


About the Author
Amy Mora, MBA, MHA, RHEd, joined the TeleHealth Services family in 2014 as the Client Support Manager. She brings 20 years of experience as an educator in the healthcare industry. She previously served as the patient education coordinator for a large health- care system in North Carolina and has patient care experience as a former EMT-I. Amy is also the author of Nursing Novellas, an educational fiction series of stories about interpersonal issues impacting the healthcare workforce. Amy is a North Carolina Registered Health Educator and has a Bachelor of Science in Health Behavior & Health Education as well as a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Health Administration. She is excited about supporting Tigr clients in their efforts to improve patient satisfaction and outcomes.

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