By: David Grew MD MPH
Severe time constraints force doctors to make a choice: optimal manual knowledge transfer or keeping clinic running on time. You can’t do both.
∗ ∗ ∗
We’ve all experienced this moment. You’re driving home from a doctor’s appointment, and you had it all down while you were in the office, but now some key details are slipping away. If felt like drinking from a fire hose during the encounter but you were able to stay with them and construct a solid framework of understanding. And now, just 30 minutes later, the memory is fading.
You're not alone. In fact, it's entirely normal for us to forget things we hear just once. This phenomenon is known as the forgetting curve, and it can have a significant impact on patient experience and outcomes in healthcare. In this blog post, we'll discuss the predictable decay of memories, its implications in a medical context, and how asynchronous video education, like the kind offered by PRIMR, can help address this challenge.
The forgetting curve, first proposed by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, illustrates how memory retention declines over time. Ebbinghaus' research showed that we tend to forget new information rapidly, with most of the loss occurring within the first few hours to days. This memory decay accelerates when we don't actively review or engage with the information we've learned.
In a healthcare context, this can be problematic. For example, patients may forget crucial details explained by their physician during an appointment. This can lead to a degraded patient experience and, potentially, worse outcomes. For instance, patients might not remember critical information about their medication, pre-op instructions or follow-up appointments, which can hinder their recovery or management of a chronic condition.
Strategies for Physicians to Improve Patient Knowledge Retention
To address the forgetting curve, physicians can implement several strategies to improve patient knowledge retention, including:
- Repetition: Repeating important information during a consultation can reinforce a patient's memory of the subject matter.
- Simplification: Breaking down complex concepts into smaller, digestible bits of information can make it easier for patients to remember.
- Visual aids: Providing visual aids like diagrams, infographics, or videos can help patients better understand and recall the information presented.
- Written materials: Giving patients written summaries or instructions can serve as a helpful reference for later review.
The obvious challenge clinicians face in implementing these strategies is severe constraints on our time. If we take additional time to layer in repetition, simplification and visual aides during clinic, we will have a waiting room full of angry patients waiting to see the doctor. So we have a choice between optimizing knowledge transfer manually or keeping clinic running on time. Most of us try to find a balance, but I think we’d all admit we frequently sacrifice optimal knowledge transfer for the sake of keeping the trains running. Room for improvement!
Strategies for Patients to Improve Knowledge Retention Post-Consultation
Patients, too, can play a role in improving their knowledge retention after a physician encounter. Here are some strategies I’ve seen my own patients employ:
- Note-taking: Jotting down important information during or immediately after a consultation to solidify memories and provide a reference for later review.
- Asking questions: Engaging in active dialogue with care team to improve understanding and retention of information.
- Utilizing technology: Smartphone apps and other digital tools to track medications, appointments, and other essential health information.
Asynchronous video education has emerged as a novel way to address the forgetting curve in healthcare. This approach involves providing patients with pre-recorded videos that can be viewed at their convenience, offering a flexible and engaging learning experience. Videos can be paused, rewound, and rewatched as needed, enabling patients to thoroughly absorb and review the information presented. Patients can easily share links to videos with their family or support team, which lifts the burden of them to “re-explain” everything to family later.
We’re building PRIMR with a mission to reduce patient anxiety with better education. One way we’re executing on that mission is by harnessing the power of asynchronous video education to enhance knowledge retention. By providing easily accessible, high-quality video content tailored to patients' needs, PRIMR aims to empower patients with the information they need to make informed decisions about their healthcare. Instead of letting the forgetting curve decay to zero, we’re resetting the curve every time a patient is primed by re-watching our educational videos.
To wrap up, the forgetting curve is an inherent part of our memory function, but it doesn't have to be a barrier to effective healthcare communication. By employing strategies such as asynchronous video education, both physicians and patients can work together to improve knowledge retention, enhance the patient experience, and ultimately, achieve better health outcomes.