July 4, 2022

The questioning patient

Stay Curious

More than ever patients are being encouraged to ask questions. Why is this treatment being recommended to me? What’s the alternative? What are the risks? What are the benefits? Asking questions is important and empowering. In this context, it helps patients take ownership of their healthcare, an important consideration in a world where chronic, lifestyle related disease is on the rise.

We know that Google is nearly always the first stop when questions appear (see our Cannes 2022 blog for more), but the NHS is also actively encouraging a questioning mindset in patients.

The NHS has invested heavily in promoting shared decision making to both patients and healthcare professionals as the evidence shows that it benefits patients, improving the quality and appropriateness of clinical decision making. The 2011 Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley (remember him?), articulated the government’s vision for shared decision making with the phrase, ‘nothing about me, without me’. Most recently, Ask 3 Questions has become the patient-focused arm of the NHS’s focus on shared decision-making strategy.

The way patients are encouraged to ask questions normally takes the form of: what are my options? What are the pros and cons of each option for me? How do I get support in making a decision that’s right for me? These types of questions are evidence based, research has showed that when patients ask them, they tend to have a better experience of healthcare. Sometimes it’s a case of supporting patients using questions to understand how to take a medicine properly, and sometimes patients may need to ask questions to help them decide which course of treatment is best for them.

The upshot? Patients are encouraged to be curious and active participants in their healthcare.

What does that mean for healthcare communicators? It serves as an important reminder that when we’re working on patient-facing campaigns we need to be thinking carefully about how we might support our end-users in having the tools they need to ask meaningful questions of their healthcare providers.

And so, in the spirit of asking questions, I’d suggest we consider the following questions, ourselves, as healthcare communicators:

  • What questions do patients have, and how are they phrasing them – in their own words?
  • What messages are needed to empower the questioner, and what is the best way for them to receive these messages? Does this differ across the patient population we’re working with?
  • How are we going to make sure that patients can find the information? What is our search strategy?
  • What is the biggest barrier to feeling confident and able to ask questions about treatment?
  • Have we validated what we want to say, and how we want to say it with real patients? Can they be involved in content development or review, in some way?
  • What evidence might be helpful in empowering patients in asking trickier questions?
  • On a practical level, what resources and materials do patients need to support them in asking questions?
  • How do the healthcare professionals our patients are likely to encounter respond to questions? Is there anything we need to do to support the conversation from this side?

Want to have a chat with us about how you can make sure you’re fostering curiosity in the patients you’re working with? Drop us a line on staycurious@curioushealth.io.

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