Overcoming Patient Education Obstacles

patient holding medication

Patient education is one of the most important yet often overlooked tools clinicians across the healthcare industry have in their repertoire. Rather than a short-sighted approach of merely treating patients during a limited interaction once or twice a year, educating patients allows them the knowledge and tools to take their health into their own hands. When patients have a greater understanding of their conditions, how they developed them, and how their medications work to treat them, they’re empowered to take the steps necessary to manage their health and improve their quality of life. While patient education isn’t always easy, it’s an essential step in creating long-term health outcomes and benefits the lives of patients and their families. 

Why patient education is so important 

Patient education is a critical first step in creating behavioral changes in patients, especially those suffering from one or more chronic conditions. By educating patients, their health literacy and, subsequently, their self-efficacy are boosted.  

What’s self-efficacy? 

Self-efficacy is a patient’s belief in their own ability to accomplish certain tasks. In the context of healthcare, it’s the belief that their health is in their control and that they can take the actions necessary to make positive impacts. Without self-efficacy, it can be easy for patients to take a more passive approach to the management of their conditions, believing that their health is out of their control. 

It's no wonder that patients can’t make lasting beneficial changes to their health if they aren’t given proper education. That’s why empathetic, pharmacist-led outreach efforts are crucial in educating about the importance of medication management. 

Overall, the goal of patient education is to create more empowered patients who can make the right decisions for themselves and their health, ultimately leading to a lower cost of care in the long run. 

patient self efficacy

Patient education challenges 

So, we know that patient education is essential. What’s stopping us from making it happen? The challenges to patient education can be grouped into external barriers and internal barriers. Let’s explore both to understand why patient education isn’t always as easy as we’d like. 

External challenges to patient education 

External challenges are outside of the patient, their health, and what they have control over. While the list of potential external challenges could be nearly endless, there are some key challenges to highlight: 

Language barriers: Language barriers present some of the most significant challenges in delivering adequate patient education. After all, if a clinician isn’t able to establish a baseline rapport by speaking with the patient, it’s unrealistic to think they could educate on complex medication and health topics. Fortunately, at Aspen RxHealth, our nationwide community of pharmacists, thousands strong, boasts over 27 languages, making them able to connect with nearly any patient. 

Health literacy: As we discussed earlier, health literacy and patient education go hand in hand. While patient education is key to establishing health literacy, a base level of understanding is also needed. Clinicians must approach each patient interaction empathetically and meet each patient where they are, as we all fall onto different points on the health literacy spectrum. 

Cultural differences: A lack of cultural understanding makes nearly any interaction difficult, and this is especially true in patient education initiatives. Shared understanding is critical to laying the foundation of a robust and long-term relationship. Aspen RxHealth’s pharmacists come from all walks of life, enabling us to match them with patients with whom they’re the best fit for a productive medication consultation. 

patient holding medication confused

Internal challenges to patient education 

As the name suggests, internal challenges are the opposite of the external challenges just discussed. They’re factors within a patient’s sphere of influence, whether that be their actions, their health, or their emotions. 

Motivation: As with many things worth doing, improving and maintaining one’s health isn’t easy. It requires motivation to do what’s right for yourself, your loved ones, and your long-term happiness. Motivation is also important in patient education. If the patient isn’t motivated enough to take a clinician’s information and recommendations to heart, they won’t succeed in achieving their health goals. 

Comorbidity: With each additional condition a patient has, their educational needs become increasingly complex. Imagine a patient suffering from diabetes, chronic heart failure, and HIV/AIDS. It’s not hard to see how such a patient would become quickly overwhelmed with the flurry of information they receive about their health. In turn, it becomes difficult to prioritize and absorb the information they need. 

Prior knowledge and misconceptions: In the information age, it’s increasingly easy for patients to become misinformed, especially regarding health topics. Navigating the sea of health information online is a gargantuan task, which is why patients need the trusted counsel of pharmacists to truly understand their medications. Pharmacists may need to use techniques such as motivational interviewing to break down a patient’s misconceptions before building foundational health knowledge and literacy. 

How to overcome patient education challenges 

Despite the many challenges that can make patient education difficult, Aspen RxHealth pharmacists are equipped with the unique knowledge and skillset that allow them to overcome challenges, meet patients where they are, and create improved long-term health outcomes.  


Creating the pharmacist and patient relationship

Relationships built on a strong foundation of shared cultural experiences and language are extremely beneficial to creating a dynamic that encourages patient receptivity to health education. With our nationwide pharmacist community’s high degree of diversity in clinical specialties, languages, and cultural demographics, we can pair the right pharmacist with nearly any patient. This creates trust through the pharmacist and patient relationship leading to long-term health outcome improvement. 

Eliminate time constraints 

In a retail pharmacy setting, the long lines of patients and phones ringing create an environment that puts stress on pharmacists to move as quickly as possible, often causing clinical consultations to fall by the wayside.  

Through Aspen RxHealth’s telehealth model, our pharmacists have the ability to work from anywhere in the US on their own time, without any dispensing quotas, inventory responsibilities, or staff to manage. This means their full focus is solely on delivering excellent patient care during every consultation they provide. 

Utilize motivational interviewing 

Aspen RxHealth pharmacists are equipped with a robust training regimen of clinical consultation practices and techniques, with motivational interviewing at the core. Motivational interviewing allows pharmacists to walk patients through why they take the actions they do, along with creating the internal motivation to make the right decisions for their health. Rather than a mandative or parental approach to patient education, this approach allows for longer-term adoption of pharmacist recommendations and better retention of any patient education provided. 

Struggling to make the lasting changes necessary to the health of your health plan’s member populations? Explore Aspen RxHealth’s outsourced medication therapy management solutions that allow you to deliver more in-depth patient education than ever before.