One of the most important roles nurses have today is patient education. This was once reserved for the physician, but no longer. Today nurses assume more and more responsibility for educating patients and helping them to become responsible for their own health status. Patients need to take a proactive role in their own health care. This means they need to comprehend their health status and work to stabilize and prevent or minimize complications from any chronic illnesses.
Patient education needs to be comprehensive and easily understood. Health educators (in particular nurses) must understand that greater than 50% of Americans are health care illiterate. This has nothing to do with their ability to read and write; but rather their inability to understand health care information and what they need to do with that information.
Discharge planning starts at admission
Hospital nurses can best educate patients by understanding that discharge planning begins with admission. Nurses have to ensure patients are effectively educated throughout their hospitalization so that they are prepared to care for themselves and don’t return for the same issue. Spending the last 20 minutes of a hospital stay discussing the patient’s illness and follow up care is not adequate. Handing him materials to read on his way home is most ineffective because he likely has little to no understanding of what he was hospitalized for and why he needs to follow up.
Without proper education he will return home and resume his previous life style until he has another episode. Preventing re-hospitalization is a huge responsibility for the entire health care industry. To accomplish our part of this task we as nurses need to constantly improve patient education.
Tips to improve patient education
Nurses are overworked and underpaid. We cannot create more time for nurses. Some of the things nurses can do to improve patient education include:
- Delegate more responsibilities to their support staff and be more focused on patient education.
- Begin educating patients with every encounter from admission.
- Find out what the patient already knows. Correct any misinformation.
- Feed patients information in layman’s terms. Utilize visual activities as often as possible. People remember what the see far more than what they hear or read.
- Question their understanding of the care, and plan for the next lesson. It is all part of the nursing process.
- Utilize return demonstration when administering care. Involve the patient from the very first treatment.
- Ask the patient to tell you how they would explain (step by step) their disease or treatment to their spouse.
- Reiterate and build upon the teaching with every opportunity throughout the hospitalization. Coordinate with the nursing team for continuity.
- Make sure the patient understands their medications as you administer them. Quiz them on the actions and side effects. Explain to the patient how this will help them to control their chronic or acute disease and what outcomes to expect. Further you need to explore with the patient whether these medications will be necessary long term? Do they understand how and when to refill medications? If this is the first time a patient has had an acute illness he may not know that he needs to refill a medication. That process may be completely foreign to him.
- Provide patients with information about signs and symptoms to report to his physician and ensure that he knows to do this timely and not wait for another crisis to act.
Educating patients helps to improve their outcomes and in the bigger scheme of things will lower the cost of medical care through the wellness model.