How Orthopedic Patient Education Improves Outcomes

An illustration depicting a doctor explaining orthopedic treatment options to a patient, emphasizing the importance of patient education in improving outcomes.
Discussing the ways orthopedic patient education can improve outcomes by equipping patients with realistic expectations and knowledge about what to expect.

When you were in medical school, you likely noticed a correlation between how much you studied and how well you did on your exams. The same principle applies to patient education and outcomes after a procedure or treatment.

Patient education before an orthopedic procedure covers strategies like details about the procedure, home safety, anticipated length of stay, use of devices to improve functionality, dietary changes, and physical therapy protocols. With these tools, patients can be better prepared and able to manage after their surgery.

The educational materials — which can include fact sheets, diagrams, animations, videos, and other reading materials — help patients stick to the strategies and have realistic expectations.

Orthopedic patient education helps your patients make informed decisions that result in better outcomes, setting up a win-win situation for you both. We’ve rounded up some of the ways orthopedic patient education improves outcomes.

Reduced length of stay and lower cost of care

When patients know what they need to do leading up to their procedure (like adhering to a certain diet) and what to expect during their surgery, they can get out of the hospital sooner than expected. Or, at the very least, they can avoid extending their stay because they didn’t follow instructions. 

Studies link preoperative orthopedic patient education to shortened lengths of stay. One study, in particular, showed that knee replacement patients who received education went from seven days in the hospital to five compared to conventional pre-op education methods. Because the patients in these studies simply had access to more information, they were able to go home sooner.

Effective patient education also results in cost benefits for both patients and healthcare providers.

Less time in the hospital means less money owed in medical bills for patients and less strain on healthcare resources.

Patient education can also lower the possibility that a patient will need to be readmitted, which is costly for both healthcare providers and their patients.

Decreased dependence on pain medication 

Pain management is vital for many patients after surgery. Unfortunately, opioid addiction is common and can happen to anyone. Between 9.2% and 13% of patients experience chronic opioid use post-surgery, but preoperative patient education can reduce requests for pain meds. 

Let your patients know what kind of postoperative pain they can expect and the various ways to manage it, including opioid and non-opioid. Opioids have a time and place, but there are also non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen that can be used to mitigate pain. Surgeons are turning to alternative methods for pain management, including acupuncture.

One study found that enhanced patient education resulted in shoulder arthroplasty patients being opioid-free within two weeks of surgery. Another study showed that patients who underwent joint replacement surgery and received preoperative education felt prepared and had an easier time with pain management after surgery because their expectations were realistic.

Supplement one-on-one explanations to patients with resources they can consult on their own time. A good source of orthopedic patient information is OrthoInfo, developed by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). OrthoInfo provides information about diagnosis, symptoms, treatment, causes, and recovery for musculoskeletal issues. When it comes to pain management, they have a good roundup of alternative approaches to treating pain after orthopedic surgery.

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Less anxiety, more satisfaction

Any surgical procedure comes with varying levels of stress. Patients and their loved ones don’t just worry about the procedure — they worry about what comes after. 

Patients who receive thorough information and know what to expect ahead of a surgical procedure may feel less anxious and have a better overall experience while they recover.

In one study, total hip replacement patients who received an educational booklet prior to surgery experienced less anxiety than those who didn’t receive the information. Another study showed that patients who took a preoperative class before their total hip arthroplasty had realistic expectations that increased their satisfaction.

Say you have a patient who needs arthroscopy because they’ve been having persistent back pain, but they’re also experiencing pretty severe anxiety. Walk them through the procedure step-by-step and give them resources they can consult, like booklets or video reports of other people who went through the same procedure, to learn more about what the recovery will be like. This can alleviate some of their fears, so they go into the procedure with confidence.

Improved function

Getting patients’ joint functions back to normal — or to improved levels compared to pre-surgery — is the ultimate goal for orthopedic surgeons. Providing information about what patients can do on their own — including doing exercises, following a specific diet, or taking supplements — can help them get functionality back and increase their self-efficacy.

In one particular study, patient education improved joint functionality after hip replacement surgery for each of the 35 patients who were recruited.

Orthopedic patient education resources like this total knee replacement exercise guide from OrthoInfo help patients better understand the movements they can do on their own to improve function after an orthopedic procedure. Put together your own post-procedure exercise guides and share them with patients after thoroughly explaining how to perform the exercises in a controlled environment to avoid injury. 

Better relationships between patients and providers

When a patient feels like you genuinely care about their level of understanding of their upcoming procedure and recovery, it can inspire an increased sense of trust.

In one study, orthopedic surgeons said managing patient expectations after surgery and communicating with them about their satisfaction levels regarding their procedure were big challenges. Patient education can help combat these issues and play a crucial part in fostering a positive relationship between doctor and patient. 

Educational materials not only inform patients about what to expect and treatment options, but they also provide patients with the opportunity to ask questions and deepen their understanding. By fostering a good relationship with your patients, you increase the likelihood they’ll seek you out if they ever need to undergo an orthopedic procedure in the future. They’ll also be more likely to recommend you to a friend or family member.

Improve post-surgery outcomes with Exer

Orthopedic patient education benefits patients both physically and mentally. Whether it’s less time spent in the hospital, lower out-of-pocket costs, or improved satisfaction with the whole process, patient education is an effective way to improve outcomes. 

Orthopedic surgeons can continue improving post-surgery outcomes with Exer.

Exer Health is an AI-powered mobile app that conducts motion assessments on your patients while they’re recovering at home. Request a free demo today.

Photo by Susan Q Yin

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