Computers in Patient Education

Deborah Lewis, EdD, RN, MPH

Disclosures

Comput Inform Nurs. 2003;21(2) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Nurses in practice have an increasing need to become aware of the computer-based resources available and the evidence regarding their use in the process of patient education. This synthesis of the literature examines research related to computer-based patient education. A particular focus is placed on the nurse clinician's perspective and the role of the nurse as a patient educator in the digital age. Two primary healthcare database resources, MEDLINE and CINAHL, were selected for review of the current literature. A listing of articles related to the use of computer technology in patient education was obtained from both of these databases. The search strategy included exploding the subject heading terms 'computer' and 'patient education,' and included articles from 1971 to 2001. Computer-based patient education is an effective strategy for improving healthcare knowledge and clinical outcomes. Computer-based learning can be tailored to the individual's age and specific learning needs. Furthermore, although access to computer-based resources continues to be a barrier for some, socioeconomic disparities have no reported impact on patients' abilities to use computer-based technologies effectively.

Patient education involves the transfer of health-related knowledge from various healthcare sources to the patients themselves as well as the development of the necessary skills for integrating this knowledge into their lives. Nurses have long played a major role in the design, development, and implementation of innovative approaches to patient education. Computer technologies, including the Internet, currently are more widely available for use as an educational delivery mode in the healthcare setting. This review of the literature examines research related to computer-based patient education. A particular focus is placed on the nurse clinician's perspective and the role of the nurse as a patient educator in the digital age.

Patients access healthcare information outside the healthcare environment in a variety of ways. Books, pamphlets, and other reading materials are common information resources. Family and friends also are a longstanding source of information, support, and advice. Experiential learning comes from watching others and by viewing television, video, and movies. Access to digital information available on the Internet has introduced a vast world of new possibilities as the use of computer-based learning interventions incorporates all of these information and learning approaches in a multimedia learning environment.

Computer-based patient education has many well-documented benefits. For example, computer-based learning interventions support 'just-in-time' learning when the patient is ready or has time to access the computer. Another advantage is that the computer provides consistent information that can be tailored to an individual patient's personal characteristics. Computer-based learning programs can simulate virtual environments, thereby allowing healthcare skills to be practiced in a simulated and 'safe' setting. Decision-support systems guide patients through the healthcare decision-making progress. Computer systems and learning programs also can be adapted to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

With the overabundance of information resources available currently, patients are coming to the healthcare encounter armed with information. Many of these patients are computer savvy and seeking additional resources for healthcare knowledge. Nurses in practice have an increasing need to become aware of the computer-based resources available, and to evaluate the evidence regarding their use in the process of patient education.

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