HealthJune 14, 2024

Engaging patients with empathetic, inclusive health content

Designing health education content to be empathetic and inclusive can help patients stay engaged and drive better outcomes and satisfaction.

As healthcare providers and professionals look to improve outcomes among their patients and members, a preventative approach to health can help identify risks before they become acute conditions, and also alleviate some of the long-term pressure on clinicians. 

In the case of cardiovascular health, it’s not uncommon for the first diagnosis of diabetes to be made at the time of a heart attack, long after preventative measures could have been put into place. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally and most can be prevented by addressing behaviors like tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy diet and obesity, and physical activity. Additionally, providers themselves are faced with complex challenges such as burnout, readmission costs, an increasing emphasis on primary care and preventative services, and trying to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction. 

Patient engagement is a known strategy that can improve treatment outcomes, patient satisfaction, and provider service efficiency. However, it’s key that the patients themselves do their part to practice self-care and adhere to any remediation plans for patient engagement solutions to be effective. If education is relatable and personalized to the patient experience, it can increase engagement by highlighting factors within their control, enabling them to be partners in their care journey and help alleviate some of the pressure on care teams.

Five elements of empathetic health education

When designing health education with an inclusive focus, there are some key principles that can help enhance empathy, understanding, and trust.

1. Personalizing by meeting patients where they are

When designing patient education, the information must meet the patients where they are to impact their behavior. With an understanding of multimedia learning principles, content can be delivered in a personalized way that best supports the patient, their learning style, and their preferred medium.

The anatomy of patient education has four elements:

  • Evidence-based content written at a fourth-grade reading level.
  • Medical art and visual storytelling that is clear, approachable, and human-centered.
  • Voices that are empathetic and diverse, so the patient can hear themselves and their community.
  • Delivery through digital tools that are adaptable, accessible, interactive, and personalized with an intuitive user experience.

2. Recognizing social drivers for care equity

Healthcare goes beyond treating illnesses, it is also about addressing the root causes of health disparities and influencing social drivers. 80-90% of factors that affect patient health happen outside the clinical setting, such as social circumstances, environment, and genetics – many of which are out of a patient’s control.

This is why having a full picture of the patient experience is essential. Including content that addresses these factors—things like where to find subsidized services or information, how to eat healthier or move more, or sharing other patients’ experiences—along with clinical content can help build trust and inspire action.

Designing health information that recognizes the many influences on a patient’s wellness is key to empathetic education. It should encourage positive behavioral change for a variety of things a patient CAN affect, such as nutrition, mental health, dealing with stress and anxiety, and exercise.

3. Addressing holistic health

By recognizing these drivers, patient information can help equip patients to see a holistic view of their health. Acute conditions must be addressed in the moment when a patient is in a clinic; however, by integrating other social drivers into the clinical content, patients understand how they can proactively take care of their health. Patient education can go beyond clinical information like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension and integrate related topics like nutrition, exercise, medication adherence, the effects of substance abuse and smoking, and managing anxiety to empower the patient to improve their conditions.

4. Clarifying and softening the experience of healthcare

Healthcare experiences can be confusing and scary to patients. Discussing topics like the dangers of an aortic aneurysm or preparation for an upcoming surgery can leave many patients with anxiety or potentially cause them to avoid providers altogether. 

Patient education can go beyond to clarify complex topics through clear illustrations and explanations in approachable ways. It can also soften the scariness by using metaphors to learn about concepts away from the body – such as a garden hose illustrating how an aneurysm could rupture. Education can reduce the information load as much as possible, while still leaving them informed and feeling like they understand their own body.

5. Instilling a sense of humanity through warmth, connection, and representation

We can all recognize that the healthcare industry can feel cold and sterile at times, so another way to enhance learning and reduce patient anxiety is by instilling a sense of humanity into patient engagement programs. Illustrating relatable scenes from life can help patients better relate to and connect with the content. 

One way to help patients connect is to ensure diversity and inclusion are represented throughout these scenes, from skin color and cultural background to gender and sexual orientation to mobility levels and differing body shapes. By providing images to patients with an array of backgrounds, patients can not only see themselves in the scenarios but also develop empathy for others from different backgrounds who may be going through similar situations.

Engaging, empathetic patient education leads to better outcomes

These strategies are in mind as we develop patient content for the UpToDate® Patient Engagement and Member Engagement solutions. Our editorial team expertly adapts the latest clinical information from UpToDate decision support to educate patients on a level that they can understand and empathize with.

Empathetic communication is objectively the right thing to do, but it also has very real and quantifiable outcomes to address some of healthcare’s biggest challenges. By surveying our users and speaking to customers we’ve been able to see demonstrated results that improve outcomes:

  • Patient satisfaction – 71% of viewers reported an improved opinion of their provider1
  • Comprehension – 89% of users said the patient education materials answered questions they would have otherwise called their clinician to ask2
  • Empowerment – 85% program completion rate for self-directed viewing3
  • Clinical outcomes – 50% less likely to need repeat procedures than non-viewers, from a Cleveland Clinic survey of colonoscopy patients4

This is what drives our team – creating empathetic content that resonates so patients feel empowered to help improve their own health. It also helps lessen care team burdens so they can focus efforts on patients who need the most immediate support. With empathetic, inclusive health education content on hand, patients can be partners with providers and payers in their health journey towards better outcomes.

Learn about solutions for patient engagement and member engagement from UpToDate, access the UpToDate Point of Care Report on improving cardiovascular outcomes, and fill out the form below to watch the full webinar “Putting the heart into health education” from Scottsdale Institute.

Complete the form below to watch the full webinar

Evan Heigert Headshot
Creative Director, Patient Engagement at Wolters Kluwer Health
Evan leads a team of design, animation and UX professionals in building empathetic, inclusive, and engaging content and experiences for patient and member engagement.
  1. Wolters Kluwer survey of 204,000 users. Data on file.
  2. Wolters Kluwer survey of 132,000 users. Data on file.
  3. Wolters Kluwer, 824,000 views, past 12 months. Data on file.
  4. Wolters Kluwer survey of 1,285 beds. Data on file.

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