Nurse practitioners play a critical role in patient education, survey says

Nurse with patient
Nearly 8 in 10 nurse practitioners reported in a recent survey they would prefer that their patients do some research before they come into the office

A new survey finds nurse practitioners more involved than ever in patient education, particularly when it comes to correcting misinformation.

The survey of 210 NPs conducted by Merck Manuals found that many patients who try to research their health issues before their appointment wind up confused or misinformed. Nearly 9 in 10 NPs indicated that at least half the time they spend with patients involves educating them about their care, and 95% of respondents said they believe patients take a shot at self-diagnosis before arriving in the office.

As positive as patient engagement can be, the overwhelming amount of information available on the Internet and via advertisements can lead a motivated patient in the wrong direction. “Sometimes patients see a commercial on TV and research it, and automatically diagnose themselves with a condition they don’t necessarily have,” one NP told Merck Manuals, adding, “Then they want therapy or treatment that’s not appropriate.”

In other cases, patients can be ill-equipped to evaluate the quality or the substance of the sources they use to gather medical information, leading NPs to describe their work as “translating and decoding” scientific information to help patients interpret it properly.

Despite the difficulties, most NPs say they enjoy educating patients on these topics, according to the survey. Nearly half cited an inability of patients to understand their health issues as a barrier to care, which likely explains why nearly 8 in 10 reported they would prefer that their patients do some research before they come into the office.

Robert S. Porter, M.D., editor in chief of the Merck Manuals, says this dynamic underscores the importance of guiding patients toward reliable information and making healthcare decisions collaboratively. “A little bit of research before an appointment can help educate patients, but only if they reference a credible source and plan to discuss their findings with their healthcare professional,” he said in an announcement.