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Most of nurse practitioners’ appointment time spent on patient education

Nurse practitioners play a crucial role in helping patients decode medical information, according to the findings of a recently released Merck Manuals survey. The survey of 210 NPs, conducted at a recent medical conference, revealed that most (88 percent) believe they spend at least half of appointment times educating patients on diagnoses, treatments, and prescriptions.

A majority of NPs (78 percent) do prefer their patients do research ahead of appointments. However, many patients tend to turn that research into assumed diagnoses. Ninety-five percent of NPs say most of their patients attempt to diagnose themselves prior to appointments.

This is particularly concerning given that when asked to characterize the health literacy of patients, nearly half (45 percent) said their patients’ lack of understanding is a barrier to maintaining their health. Forty-eight percent said their patients understand enough to follow basic treatment instructions, and just seven percent said patients are knowledgeable, with specific ideas about their treatment.

“Today, effective patient care requires NPs to help their patients cut through the clutter of medical misinformation,” said Robert S. Porter, M.D., Merck Manuals Editor-in-Chief. “A little bit of research before an appointment can help educate patients, but only if they reference a credible source and plan to discuss their findings with their healthcare professional.”

According to the survey, NPs believe their patients prepare for appointments in several ways:

  • Doing online research (59 percent);
  • Talking to a physician/nurse they know (31 percent);
  • Printing materials to bring to the appointment (10 percent).

But about half (51 percent) say their patients don’t prepare for appointments at all.

“Sometimes patients see a commercial on TV and research it, and automatically diagnose themselves with a condition they don’t necessarily have. Then they want therapy or treatment that’s not appropriate,” said Jessica, an NP from Austin, TX, surveyed at the conference. “So one of the biggest challenges is working through the misinformation, and educating them as to why they don’t have what they think they have.”

When asked about the top factors challenging the nurse practitioner/patient relationship, half of respondents ranked shortened appointment times as the most crucial, followed by low health literacy and increased dependency on paperwork/digital records.

“Physicians and NPs can help their patients prepare to discuss their medical condition and treatment options,” Dr. Porter said. “This is especially important as more patients access medical information online.”

Editor’s picks:

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