How to Present Health Data to Your Patients

In 2010, Wired magazine executive editor Thomas Guetz gave a Ted Med talk on the importance of redesigning medical data. He claimed better health is not a science problem, but an information problem.

Granted, it’s not the quality or quantity of information that promotes more health or engagement, but the way that information is presented. Guetz believes better decisions in persons’ lives can be promoted via better design.

The perfect example? Smokers know they need to quit but don’t do it. Below we explore how practices can change the way they present health information to patients.

Engagement or Compliance Care?
How do dentists keep patients brushing and flossing? Some think fear-based marketing does the trick – getting patients to believe they’ll drink soup for the rest of their lives if they don’t brush and floss.

However, studies show that people who brush and floss do so because of a sense of efficacy. They genuinely believe they can follow a more strict brush and floss regimen, so they do.

This demonstrates that perhaps fear- and compliance-based care isn’t the best route for physician-patient interaction. Personalized information, however, gives people specific information about what their health status is and where they should stand.

Physicians should connect specific personal health information to patients’ lives in an educational way. Subtract the fear, seeing as there is already an emotional connection to the information since it comes from us.

Choices must be presented to the patient, which are then connected to actions and behaviors they should follow. These behaviors need to return to the point where personalized information is given, completing what Guetz describes as a ‘feedback loop.’

No More Jargon
Most patients don’t understand doctor vernacular, so why not provide them spoken and printed personal health information that normal patients cam understand?

Lab test results make patient frontal lobes do cartwheels. There are easy ways to reimagine test results. For instance, some EHRs provide more artful representations of health information that patients can more productively absorb.

But what if a small practice’s EHR doesn’t have that capacity? Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp probably aren’t making changes any time soon, and both companies target doctors and insurance companies. Practices must do the patient targeting.

Most practices can’t afford a freelance graphic designer, but physicians can collaborate with staff members to rewrite test results, and use certain template phrases to personalize results for patients in the practice.

Furthermore, physicians shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with color in personal health data collateral. We know it’s a crazy notion, but people tend to correlate data with hues!

Patient Questions
Some patients may not be acquainted with the kinds of questions they should be asking, so physicians should be prepared to educate them. Patients should be provided with the questions they need to be asking to engage in their personal health.

May I have test results and any other pertinent personal health information? This is the most basic question a patient should be asking to engage in his or her personal health.

What does this health information mean? Doctors should sift through tests and explain results to patients. This may result in a longer visit momentarily, but will ultimately save time by leading to savvier patients.

What options do I have? Physicians should give patients various options towards bettering or maintaining their health, including routes with negative repercussions.

What’s next? This is where physicians give patients their options towards adopting better care.

Physician Questions
Physicians should act as stewards, guiding patients who are willing to engage with their personal health. It’s irresponsible to not perform a little patient handholding here. Below are examples of questions physicians should ask patients to help gain a clearer picture of their overall health.

What are you eating? What is your diet like?

What efforts are you making towards caring for your health?

What are your risk factors for disease? What aspects of your lifestyle perpetuate these risks?

What have you been tested for? What do you need to be tested for?

Then, physicians should map these answers out and present them to patients, helping them gain a better understanding of their personal health information from diagnosis to treatment and prevention. While these questions may make sense to healthcare providers, this represents a total redesign of personal health information to patients who are willing to engage.

Patients are educated and capable enough of understanding personal health data, but it must be presented in a form they can engage with. It’s essential to give patients the opportunity to act and end compliance- and fear-based care.

What do you do to engage patients at your practice?