Much has been written about educating patients. This can be in the form of educational materials provided during the office visit, providing access to accurate online medical data, or even educating patients about wellness- how to be well, stay well and live well. As physicians, I believe that part of our responsibility is to teach. As the familiar adage from residency goes: “see one, do one, teach one” – we have a responsibility to teach patients and to teach each other.
This is why social media is so crucial to the development of medicine today. With forums such as Twitter, physicians can communicate real time with each other to discuss current practices and share experiences. To me, this is invaluable in a time where the amount of useful information is inversely proportional to the amount of actual information available. Many of us utilize resources such as Up To Date, which offers textbooks and articles that we can pore through to find the answers we need. But suppose we are outside of the confines of residency, cowboys alone in the “field”, and want to discuss how long a patient should take steroids after being discharged from the hospital for ITP. Certainly we could read the textbooks or look this up on Epocrates. But it is also just as certain that practices would vary from physician to physician, hematologist to hematologist. What if you send a tweet out to the medical community and get several real time opinions? This also presents a wonderful opportunity to keep current, to see what everyone out there is doing and thinking. It’s how we as physicians operate best, in our own lingo with other physicians, sharing stories and inspiring each other to learn and grow: seeing one, doing one and teaching one.
The same philosophy applies to teaching patients. The extra five minutes it takes to explain to someone why it is important to lower their cholesterol not only influences how likely they are to listen, but how likely they are to return to the office. If patients feel respected, which is what happens when we take the time to explain things, they remember the encounter as a positive experience and I believe are more likely to return and to take our advice.
As the world of medicine becomes more connected through electronic medical records and sharing of data, I believe it is important that we as individual physicians stay up to date and present in this realm. It is human nature to be reluctant to change. This is precisely why physicians, as accumulators of information and trusted leaders in the community, need to lead the way.