The Key to a Sustainable Health Care System: Patient Education


We’re hearing a lot of buzz about sustainability these days. Sustainability can be defined as a system that can maintain itself with minimal use of resources. This can relate to health care on many levels, including:
— Health promotion through primary prevention.
— Prevent readmissions through improved self-care.
— Improved self-management of chronic conditions.
— Early intervention to minimize the need for expensive interventions.
— More effective and efficient use of emergency facilities.

What is the one factor that connects all of these improvements? People need self-care skills, and the ability to recognize problems and know how to respond. The key to sustainable health care is patient and family education.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the means to our goal was available all along. We just needed a Good Witch to point out that our shoes have the power. Given the rising cost of health care with no practical way to pay for it, we need to start making the shift to a sustainable health care system. Now.

Patient and family education includes both information sharing and health coaching, which helps the learner apply the new information to make a permanent change in behavior. Linda Rising says, “Sustainable development seeks to encourage recipients to make permanent change to better their lives. A consequence of being sustainable is that the circumstances of the recipients are permanently changed. Permanent change is cultural change. Therefore, these patterns are patterns of cultural change.” Patient education is the key to a sustainable health care system.

So, as our medical culture shifts from sick care to sustainable health care, we will facilitate permanent change to better lives. This system will improve the overall health of our communities, and maintain these gains. So if you’re a health care provider looking for a niche on the cutting edge, consider a role in patient and family education.

In future postings, I will explore in more detail how this could work, and what we can do to make it happen. What do you think? Do you believe patient education is the key to a sustainable health care system? How do we make the shift?

Source: Patterns for Sustainable Development at

© (2010) Fran London, MS, RN

6 Responses to “The Key to a Sustainable Health Care System: Patient Education”

  1. Hi Fran,
    I agree that patient education is very important, as is the will to actually apply what one has learned.
    I think it is also essential to offer a patient all alternatives that are available. For instance, when I research treatment options for arthritis, the two solutions that come up most often are pharmaceuticals and surgery. There are other options that can help depending on how advanced the disease is: splints, devices to make things easier to grip, etc. These options are overlooked often on line and I wonder to what extent this piece of the puzzle is also missed in patient education in the office.
    Would anyone want to venture a guess?

  2. Matthew Alleway says:

    Hi Fran,
    I enjoyed your article, and totally agree sustainability is the future, especially relevant here in the UK for the state funded health sector (NHS) in today’s economic climate. The economy may be showing strong signs of recovery, however the UK public sector is about to be hit by a dramatic reduction in funding. Sustainability is one of the key proactive actions to reduce the burden on the NHS, and tackle the inevitable reduced funding in the NHS, and allow core services to be maintained.
    Best regards
    Matthew Alleway

  3. Heike, indeed, we will have a more cost-effective system when we move toward patient-centered care from provider-centered care. It is logical for surgeons to offer surgery. But non-invasive, low-tech solutions can improve quality of life and save health care dollars. We need a system that looks at the big picture.

    Matthew, I have seen both the UK and Canada enhance their patient education and public health efforts in recent years. I believe they are aware that this is one cost-effective tool toward a sustainable health care system.

    Thank you both for your insights!

  4. jason quick says:


    Couldn’t agree more. Education is a key component to building public ‘health resilience’.

    Knowledge dispels fear – in which responses to circumstance then become actions as opposed to reaction.

    I look forward to following this discussion.

    Kind regards
    Jason Quick

  5. Good Job on the articles you have here, thank you for putting your time into it!

  6. Thanks for good article. Hope to see more soon.

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