Knowledge is power? How administrators can navigate the glut of consumer health information websites

With so many consumer health websites, clinicians can struggle to reassure patients that whatever health conditions they have, they’re on the right course. With prescription drug discount provider GoodRx launching its own informational resource, providers now have another opportunity to help patients understand their health.

The concept of health literacy has evolved over the years, and at first referred to skills or abilities that enable people to make sense of health information. Now, the meaning is understood not only as personal but organizational, which puts more of the onus on healthcare providers to clearly communicate critical facts to patients.

GoodRx aims to add to that knowledge base, said Thomas Goetz, chief of research and communications at GoodRx and the lead of the new website, GoodRx Health.

GoodRx Health posts are mostly written by clinicians, are subject to editorial standards and are derived from reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, Goetz said. The new web resource will support GoodRx’s core business of collecting fees when consumers use its prescription drug coupons at the pharmacy, he said.

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“Our opportunity is to augment clinical care,” Goetz said. “The best possible situation is where doctors are recommending GoodRx not just for prescription savings, but also as a source of knowledge and research.”

General health information only goes so far and, as more information reaches patients, providers need to be ready to contextualize it to each person’s individual health needs.

Frank Federico, vice president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, considers himself a savvy healthcare consumer, but even he fell prey to misunderstanding a study about one of his prescriptions.

“I remember reaching my cardiologist and telling him, ‘I want to stop this drug, because long-term mortality is high,’ and he had to explain the science to me as to why I needed to take that medication,” Federico said. “There has to be that ability to communicate and understand, and also to not diminish that people have done research.”
Patients are expected to collect their own information and bring it into clinical settings these days. Health systems and clinicians can alleviate patients’ burden by helping them get the factual information they need—and to understand it

“When people self-report that communication with their healthcare providers is high-quality, they are actually less likely to be searching the internet and looking at YouTube videos,” said Aisha Langford, an assistant professor at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine’s Department of Population Health who studies health communication. “We think it’s partially because if you have good communication with your healthcare team, that some of your concerns and questions will have been answered in the medical encounter or shortly after your visit.”

Providers can ease patient interactions by communicating test results via patient portals in ways that make them understandable to patients, which could give them less cause to search on their own and fall down internet rabbit holes, for example. Providers can recommended reliable sources to help patients avoid unhelpful, irrelevant and false information. Many health systems, especially academic medical centers, even have their own health information websites clinicians can promote.

“Many groups like to tailor their information in their region, and that’s why you may see several organizations with good information,” Langford said.

All this important because it can be confusing for consumers to tell the difference between legitimate content, misinformation and advertising that isn’t fact-based.

“You get into other issues of whether people really can make sense of information. It takes a fair amount of savvy to know what’s advertising and what’s useful and appropriate for you,” said Helen Osbourne, a health literacy consultant for healthcare providers.

When patients are in medical settings, asking them to repeat their care instructions can improve adherence and make patients more confident they comprehend what they need to do.

This is critical because patients rarely ask follow-up questions, Federico said. “You’d say, ‘Can you explain back to me how you’re going to dress your wound for the next week? Walk me step-by-step,’ and then the patient is basically teaching it back, so that you can check for understanding without making the patient feel bad for saying, ‘I really don’t know what you just said,'” he said.


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