For caretakers the education begins with knowledge of what health is, and how to achieve and maintain it. Equally important are the methods by which health goals are approached. These include levels of medical intervention, respect for each patient’s culture, comprehension, and ultimately consent.
When it comes to medical knowledge, health professionals have the educational advantage. Most would do well to balance clinical knowledge with cultural awareness, and appropriate interpersonal communication skills. Cultural competency training, daily interaction with patients from various cultures and ethnicities, the use of best medical practices and on-going effective communication, are remedies for a lack of experience and understanding.
From the patient’s perspective, the perception of health may be tied to expectations of how healthy they can be based on age, medical history or current status, and economic circumstances. In most cases, patients are not well-versed on the intricacies of medicine or medical procedures and rely heavily on the opinions of medical experts.
Most patients depend on their personal medical professionals for information about how to maintain or achieve health. More proactive patients may have access to materials or information generally available through media and the Internet. Others become informed by talking with family members or friends. In these cases, it may be difficult to get accurate information, or to confirm the validity of a report, since many medical studies can be refuted, if one looks long and hard enough.
At best, patients are only aware of health information they can access. The relationship and time spent with medical professionals is extremely important. It is perhaps the best opportunity for people to get information specifically related to their conditions.
Recently, there have been efforts to encourage patients to actively communicate with their doctors by asking the basic questions such as: “Why do I need this treatment? What are the alternatives? Are there complications or side effects?”
It is hoped that patients will not only become more aware of their health status, but empowered to advocate for themselves and promote their own optimum health.
Still an individual’s best efforts to maintain health may be thwarted by their surroundings. Unfortunately, the location of a community and the ethnic and socioeconomic distribution of its people and resources have proven to affect the health outcomes its inhabitants. That’s why community education, particularly about how to create and maintain healthful environments, prevents the spread of disease, and the onset of preventable chronic medical conditions is vital to the solution.
Public awareness of these factors is part of an education goes beyond self-care and extends to the well-being of family, neighbors, and friends. Typically a community engaged at this level aspires to a better quality of life for all its members. Under these circumstances, education’s graduating effect is the ability of its subjects to make informed decisions and desired change.
Image Credit: UrbanGrammar under Creative Common License