How Patient Education Improves Patient Experience

Adam Husney, MD, Healthwise CEO

A healthcare provider and patient have a conversation about health education at a desk


At James’ annual wellness exam, his doctor encouraged him to get a low-dose chest CT scan. James, now 53, was a former smoker who hadn’t picked up a cigarette in a decade, thanks to his young daughter’s encouragement. Ten years earlier, she had decorated his cigarettes with bright green Mr. Yuk stickers, so he finally quit.

James’ doctor had recommended the chest CT scan at his last two visits. James always said he’d think about it but never followed up. He felt fine and didn’t want to deal with the hassle of another appointment. And by the time he left the doctor’s office, he had other things on his mind.

This year his doctor explained more about the procedure and how it helps with early detection of lung cancer. He also shared educational printouts that describe how CT scans work and what to expect if you schedule one. When James got home, he set the education on his kitchen table. His daughter noticed the CT scan literature, rolled her eyes, and asked her dad why he didn’t just go get the scan done. James finally read the education and learned that the screening could help some people but has risks too. Together he and his daughter followed the QR code to watch a short video about the process on his cell phone. After talking to his doctor again, James decided a CT scan was right for him and he made the appointment.

And he was glad he did. The CT scan found a spot in James’ lung which turned out to be stage 1 lung cancer. Since they caught it so early, it was more easily treatable. Without the CT scan, James may not have had symptoms for years, and by then the disease may have been more advanced and more dangerous.

Six years later, James walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. In his father of the bride speech, he mentioned how she had saved his life twice—first when he stopped smoking at her behest, and second when she read the education and convinced him to get a CT scan.

Why does patient experience matter?

Improving patient experience is a hot topic in the healthcare industry. A good patient experience means patients have a trusting relationship with their providers and understand their health. They’re empowered to make health decisions—just like James did (with a little bit of his daughter’s help). Of course we all want patients to be happy, but did you know good patient experience is also proven to lead to better overall health?

A healthcare provider uses a tablet to show a parent and child educational health content in a doctor’s office


The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) reports that good patient experience positively correlates to greater prevention and disease management, better adherence to medical advice and treatment, and improved health outcomes. Good patient experience is important, full stop.

One of the best ways to improve patient experience is with patient education. As providers, we sometimes think we understand what patients want and need—but the reality is that patients are diverse and may want different things. When patients understand their conditions or the processes of a disease, they can better explore their options and make decisions that are right for them. With effective education, patients are one step closer to more knowledge and better understanding.

So, if you haven’t tapped into the power of patient education, how good can your patient’s experiences be? Education won’t improve everything about patient experience, but it can make a huge difference.

Education helps. What’s the proof?

If you’re not convinced that patient education is a path to improving patient experience, let’s talk about HCAHPS scores. They’re one of the best measures of patient experience we have.

The HCAHPS Survey is the only national standard for measuring patient satisfaction, and one of the industry’s best unbiased measures for discovering what patients think of their care. The survey includes 29 questions, and five of them focus on patient understanding:

  • During this hospital stay, how often did nurses explain things in a way you could understand?
  • During this hospital stay, how often did doctors explain things in a way you could understand?
  • During this hospital stay, did you get information in writing about what symptoms or health problems to look out for after you left the hospital?
  • When I left the hospital, I had a good understanding of the things I was responsible for in managing my health.
  • When I left the hospital, I clearly understood the purpose for taking each of my medications.

If your HCAHPS scores around patient understanding aren’t measuring up, there’s an easy way to improve: with good patient education. During a medical visit, no one remembers everything they’re told. If you share education that demystifies medical information and makes it easy to understand next steps, your patients have a chance to process and understand on their own time. Then, just like James, your patients are empowered to make choices for themselves.