Generic education has long been a component of psychiatric treatment. At a very basic level, ethics and regulations require physicians to provide information about the risks and benefits of medication. Patient education and psychoeducation programs have been studied for decades as strategies to improve outcomes.
Fundamental underpinnings and assumptions of patient education have evolved markedly over the past decade. Patient-centered and recovery-oriented care have reshaped medical practice. Patient education is best seen as an agent of shared decision making that reflects mutual collaboration among patients, families, and clinicians. This perspective expands education from a treatment component to a treatment foundation.
A critical point in this approach is that collaboration shifts the emphasis away from doctors telling patients what to do; instead, together doctors and patients decide what to do. Although sometimes patients may prefer less decision-making responsibility, in the long run, patients are better at treatment adherence when they make their own choices.
Psychiatrists can use educational strategies to address specific goals and needs. We can provide information about specific treatment areas, and beyond that, we can teach patients and families the process of how to educate themselves. With appropriate educational strategies, psychiatrists can address and match diverse goals, competencies, preferences, and practical means of access. We can teach patients and families to become wise consumers of the information they will encounter outside the clinical setting. Together we can identify resources that will inform healthy choices. Collaboration will ultimately improve outcomes.