Patient Education: Pictures Go a Long Way Towards Understanding

Patients like to be well informed.  In today’s day and age, the typical patient has some degree of knowledge from prior research online.  Obviously, much of what they learn might be misleading or patently wrong, depending on the source they’ve searched, but all-in-all many patients have some correct general idea of their problem before they make their first appointment with you.  What they often lack is an understanding of the basic medical mechanics that causes their ailment, and usually explaining this in layman’s terms goes a long way especially when it comes to treatment and outcomes.  This is particularly true when discussing surgery.  In many cases surgery requires more than just cutting something out.  Surgery also serves to enhance function, allowing the body to do more effectively what it’s designed to do, to correct an abnormal process and make it normal.  Case in point: placing tympanostomy tubes in the ear.  Explaining how this surgery helps can be difficult (see the post Ear Tubes and Otitis Media as an example) without some visual aid other than the doc pointing to your ear.

Drawings and diagrams go a long way to effectively communicate the rationale for treatment, including surgery.  This also improves the post-operative period, where recovery often is better than expected since the experience is already anticipated and made less unpredictable.  We get fewer postop phone calls when patients are better informed.

In my office—as there are in many other doctors’ offices—are posters hanging on the wall depicting illustrations of various body parts, organs, from a variety of perspectives.  Many of these were created by pharmaceutical and medical device companies with their name and logo displayed, many times in not so subtle ways.  Yes, this is blatant advertising, but many of these posters are quite good, and I’ve personally never felt compelled to use a particular vendor’s product just because of the educational display.  In fact, I don’t recall what vendor is behind each of the various posters and educational items despite using them over many years.

As with all things in life, aging takes its toll, posters being no exception.  By happenstance one day, I noticed some of those posters curling and fraying at the edges, and the once lustrous surfaces were fading.  Seeing these day-in and day-out, my staff nor I realized the changes.  Nor had a single patient brought this to our attention.  Yet that day I realized these appeared a bit shabby and unprofessional, and wondered whether the patient sitting in the exam room might get the impression of—although entirely unintended-- uncleanliness or subpar performance elsewhere.

So I decided to take those posters down.  But first I had to find something to put in their place, since the empty wall in their absence would look so…empty.  Nature abhors a vacuum, so it is said.  Then the idea of creating my own posters struck my fancy.  As you may have seen from my previous posts, I enjoy artsy stuff.  So I created posters for subjects I tend to discuss frequently with patients. 

The photo at the beginning is not so clear due to reflection from the glass (I forgot to shoot a photo prior to framing) but the drawings are also found in prior posts in this blog site.  Framing these will increase longevity but also improves the aesthetics.  I believe an office should be visually appealing and relaxing, which in turn decreases (hopefully) patient anxiety.  We also apply this philosophy by the attitude and manner in which my staff engages with our patients and amongst themselves—in a more informal, friendly and often humorous fashion.  We have other non-medical related art work hanging in various places in the office, by my hand and the hand of others.  Patients often bring this up, leading to chats about things completely removed from medicine.  The purpose of all of this is to lower the seriousness of the environment and better humanize the experience. 

©Randall S. Fong, M.D.