Patient Education is the Answer — But are we asking the question?

Every health care provider I know can tell a story of how things went awry when a patient or caregiver did not understand directions. How often does a test or surgery need to be rescheduled because the patient is not appropriately prepared? How often do we assume the medicine isn’t working, when the medicine isn’t being taken correctly?

Unless the patient does what is necessary, our treatments may not work.
Why aren’t assessment, teaching, and evaluation of understanding our highest priorities?

Patient education has two levels:
(1) providing information in ways that are understood, and
(2) helping learners apply that information to life.

We can easily find out if the patient understood the information by using teach back and return demonstration. We can help learners apply information by finding out what the challenge is, and helping them address it, pulling in all the collaborative, interdisciplinary resources available. We can’t fix everything, but we can certainly make progress if we place our efforts appropriately.

Quality patient education can help address many of health care’s problems:
— chronic illnesses that could be prevented with lifestyle changes
— adherence to medications and treatments
— self-dosing errors
— delays in accessing care, resulting in higher acuity
— patient’s perception of quality of care

Individualized patient education may not solve all our problems, but it could certainly move outcomes toward the direction of health. More research would hone us in on the most effective and efficient interventions for specific situations.

There’s not much we have to teach, actually:
— answer their questions
— information to ensure informed consent
— self-care skills
— how to recognize problems and how to respond

And then, by following-up with methods tailored to that individual patient, we need to help promote behavior changes that improves health outcomes. Some may need reminders, some financial assistance, and others, a boost in the sense of self-efficacy. It all depends.

I wonder if patient education is too simple and too obvious to get the respect it deserves. Yes, it takes a little time. But lots of research shows it’s very effective for the time it takes.

Consider how poor our outcomes would be if we provided medicine without explaining what it’s for and how to take it. Or if we sent home a patient after surgery and did not teach the signs of infection and how to respond if they should occur. Teaching is an essential part of care. We know that.

So why is patient education often an afterthought?

Are we really in the business of improving health outcomes?

©(2011) Fran London, MS, RN

One Response to “Patient Education is the Answer — But are we asking the question?”

  1. Kel Mohror says:

    How much time in Nursing school or Medical school is devoted to learning the skills of patient education? How much is known by HC professionals on the types of learners and the relevant teaching methods? How many of those professionals are certified patient teachers?

    Answers to those questions may describe why “patient education is an afterthought.”

    Healthcare providers are in the business of providing care on-demand for reimbursement.

    These brief encounters do not allow significant amounts of non-reimbursable, non-productive time to be squandered (from the payor’s perspective) in teaching, let alone educating people.

    Primary- and secondary-school teachers epitomize “non-productivity,” where “value” is also ill-defined.

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