Mental Health

Mandy Kloppers

Improving patient education: 7 tips for nurses


Once the hospital stay is over and a physician or surgeon discharges a patient, the primary factor guiding follow-up treatment is the patient’s own knowledge and effort. If the patient is knowledgeable about their condition and health, they are better equipped to carry out follow-up care. Self-care after treatment relies heavily on how the nurses educate their patients. Patient education typically includes instruction about dressing wounds, administering injections, managing diet, and using equipment like oxygen tanks.

Research shows a 19% higher risk that the patient will not adhere to instructions after discharge if the physician communicated poorly compared to the one who communicated effectively. Therefore, it is not just about delivering all the information to the patient but also about ensuring that the patient has received and understood it well enough to implement it. Often, nurses have to do so in a limited time frame, between their busy schedule and to a patient who might not be willing to listen. Ensuring effective patient education in such less-than-ideal situations is difficult, but the following tips will help you improve your techniques.

  1. Evaluate your patient’s comprehension ability individually

No two patients are the same; everyone differs in comprehending instructions and caring for themselves. Before you dive into the details you might have at your fingertips, take note of the patients’ comprehension. Treat each patient as unique; is the patient literate? Can they comprehend instructions? What language are they most comfortable with? Will the patient have help in caring for themselves back at home? Such an individualized approach lets you maximize the patients’ understanding.

With advanced nursing training courses like an MSN degree, you can further polish your patient education skills. Complete Your MSN in Nursing Degree to learn the art of education through their courses like the ‘role of the nurse educator’. Over time, nurses can fine-tune their judgment to make the best evaluation of their patient’s psychological and cognitive readiness to learn. This step is crucial in effective patient education.

  1. Create a focused environment before instruction

To ensure that instruction is most effective, take steps to eliminate distractions and get the patient’s complete, undivided attention. Ensure that no diagnostic checks, meals, or medications are scheduled when you choose to educate your patient. Although finding such time in your busy schedule will be difficult, doing so will allow for more productive communication and less need to repeat; ultimately saving your time

  1. Use simple language

Although you are familiar with medical terminology, avoid using it when communicating with your patients. Never assume that your patients will know what dorsiflexion, embolism, or myocardial infarction are; simplify all such terms into layman language for your patients. You must even avoid abbreviations that now seem almost natural to you; you may know what CBC stands for, but your patients usually won’t.

To make it easier for them to comprehend, deliver the information in bits and pieces from the initial assessment until discharge. During this time, make sure to look for windows of opportunity when the patient isn’t distressed or in pain. This approach is always better than bombarding them with instructions right before they leave.

Nearly 50% of patients do not know what they are supposed to do after leaving the physician’s office. Research suggests that often physicians do not give patients enough time to communicate and one-time instruction is not useful.

  1. Give them notes

When in the hospital, a patient is not in the best mental state or physical condition to retain all the information they receive. A patient struggling with breathing or experiencing nausea may not remember much of what the nurse says. Detailed written instructions for later use may make things much simpler for them. They might also need to contact their healthcare provider after discharge so remember to include your contact information.

  1. Facilitate all kinds of learners by using different teaching aids

Different people have different learning styles. Visual learners learn better when their sense of sight is involved and benefit from flow charts, diagrams, pictures, etc. Auditory learners grasp information better if they hear it and speak aloud what you tell them. Kinaesthetic or tactile learners benefit from the hands-on practice. Lastly, reading/writing learners learn best when information is in the form of words. Since you usually don’t know what type of learner your patient is, your instruction technique should include all aids. However, you can also ask the patients directly whether they would prefer a lecture, to be provided equipment to practice, or given material to read. The multimedia approach is the best.

  1. Use the teach-back method

Once you have delivered the information, the only way to guarantee that the patient comprehended it is to ask them to tell you what they understood. This is the teach-back method; the healthcare provider asks the patients to explain in their own words what they have understood. It helps improve patient comprehension, especially for auditory learners who benefit from speaking aloud.

In practicing the teach-back method, remember that the aim is to see if you successfully communicated, not the patient’s intelligence. If anything is ambiguous to the patient, clarify it and check again for their understanding.

  1.  Repeat yourself as often as needed

Even in a single-instance instruction, you might have to repeat yourself to clarify complicated concepts and key self-care practices. Patients who are most likely to be under distress will often be slow to comprehend, and they benefit from repetition. Discuss the essential details and key instructions once again right before discharge and allow patients to ask questions. At this point, teach-back helps you ensure that the patient knows everything and can care for themselves after discharge.

Final words

Research shows that patient education prevents common medical problems like heart disease, reduces readmissions, and makes patients self-sufficient. Nurses play the most significant role in patient education; from admission to the hospital to discharge, nurses need to instruct the patients throughout the process continuously. Patient education is not just about imparting knowledge. You have to ensure comprehension as well. To achieve this, begin by evaluating your patient’s ability to comprehend and removing all kinds of distractions. While instructing, keep your language simple, repeat key points frequently, and use the teach-back technique. The best way to help such effective communication is to first develop a rapport with the patient and build on it.

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