As anyone who is familiar with the hospital setting or has required inpatient care in the past can attest to, the hospital setting is almost exclusively spent treating disease, but not preventing it. For patients, the overall hospital experience is a passive one. You are told by your physician what disease brought you in, you are given treatments, and you are given daily updates on how those treatments are either working or not.
However, what are we doing to actually engage the patient? What are we doing to help prevent a readmission for the same issue again?
We have countless hours of the patient’s time and attention, and we will provide spot lectures on tobacco cessation and other types of lifestyle modification, but rarely do we actually engage the patient.
Rarely do we expect anything out of the patient.
We need to empower patients by expecting things from them. Passive patients equal uninformed patients. We often criticize patients for not taking ownership of their disease, but what are we doing to help them with this?
Instead of having televisions in patient rooms, we should have tablets. The tablets can be configured to play TV content, but only if the patient has completed a required set of learning activities.
For example, let’s take a patient who came into the hospital for Hypertensive Emergency. The goal of their hospital stay is to keep their blood pressure at an appropriate level by titrating medications appropriately. There is a potential for the patient to be on a completely new regime of blood pressure medications when they leave the hospital.
In addition to the Physician teaching the patient about the various medications they will be put on, we should expect the patient to learn and understand the new medications as well. With the tablet in their room, they should be able to pull up an app that tells them the new medications they are taking, what they look like, and how much they will cost.
Furthermore, the app should quiz the patient on their medications. If the patient passes the learning exercises, the entertainment features of the tablet–such as games and movies–can be opened up by the patient.
I would argue that if a patient can’t pass a quiz on the new medications they are taking by being able to properly identify them, then some sort of remedial education needs to occur prior to patient discharge. It doesn’t make sense to discharge a patient on a medication regime they can’t identify.
Hospitals around the world are already giving out tablets to every inpatient, as shown by Dubai’s health authority ordering more than 3,000 android tablets for all their hospitals. Merely giving a patient hardware doesn’t do anything, though. We should expect our patients to learn from that technology in an active manner, and not be passive consumers of health information. We should expect patients to take ownership of their health, but first we need to give them the software and tools in order to accomplish these goals.