Doctors as Teachers: A focus on Patient Education Methods

My work as a mental health practitioner affords me the privilege of being in the “front row” of the epic life story of any patient or client I see.

Of these stories, no two are alike, and each story is as unique as the next. They run the gamut from the amusing to the tragic, from the horrifying to even just the bland. These stories consist of their lived experiences, and everything they had ever seen and heard up to the moment they were brought in for that first consult.
It is a must to elicit a person’s insight to his own illness process, so it comes to no surprise that this aspect can vary.

Their understanding is a product of their own intrapsychic struggles, and, if they are perceptive enough, they pick up what their doctors tell them and they learn from that.

In this aspect, the physician who handles any patient has a daunting task, the patient’s recovery is a matter of the close interaction of the biological, psychological and sociological aspects. A patient who learns to ask questions and collaborate in his own treatment is an empowered one.

The Latin word for Doctor is docere, meaning, “to teach”. This is essentially true (and expected of) a doctor. In this aspect, the physician who handles any patient has a daunting task, the patient’s recovery is a matter of the close interaction of the biological, psychological and sociological aspects. A patient who learns to ask questions and collaborate in his own treatment is an empowered one.

Recently, I had the experience of a female patient telling me a story of her understanding of her mental illness (she was currently with flighty ideas and racing thoughts, excessively talkative), who declared that she had “Alzheimer’s” (Dementia) and was “prone to having behavioral changes” with the changes in the lunar cycle, and that she wasn’t “crazy”. Apparently, this was what she had understood from her physician who had probably prudently tried to explain her condition to her and the family prior to their referral to my service. As such, from what they understood of her condition, there was a refusal to really adhere to the treatment plan.

Our words, as physicians, in general and in any specialty, have power. Correspondingly, as patients, our understanding of our condition makes us empowered. It makes or breaks any treatment plans or goals we have for our patients.

This week’s topic focuses on our role as doctors and the highly daunting responsibility of patient education. Join us at 9PM Philippine time for another tweetchat on #healthxph!

T1: What are your experiences with patient education, both as the attending physician and as a patient?

T2: What methods do you employ (or have experienced) as a physician (or patient) to educate your patients in clinical practice?

T3: In your experience, either as both the patient and the attending physician, what would methods would you recommend to improve patient education?

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