What is the purpose of patient education in hospitals?

Recently, someone posted the question on the LinkedIn site:
“What is the purpose of patient education in hospitals? . . . I’m not sure how it fits into the hospitals business model. Is there an economic basis for it?”

Some business-oriented administrators who are not health care providers may perceive patient education as a non-revenue producing, unnecessary expense. I suspect they haven’t experienced serious illness yet. Here is my response to that question:

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OK, try to imagine hospital care WITHOUT patient education.

You’re admitted into the hospital and things just get done to you. No informed consent. No warning about what is about to be done to you and why. No information about your problem or what the treatment options are. You get taken to surgery. You wake up not knowing what happened and you hurt. Medicine is given to you without explanation — just take it. No advice about how to take care of yourself after leaving the hospital. No plans for follow-up, no information about who to call if you have a problem. You are just handed some prescriptions written in Latin and told to leave. You have no idea what you can do to avoid going through this again.

Could you possibly have this experience and feel you got the best care possible from medical experts? When you don’t get quality patient education, you know it. You are not involved, and you don’t feel safe or cared for. Patient education is not an extra. It is an essential, but often invisible, part of care.

So now you explain: How does patient education NOT fit into the hospital business model?

* * * * * *

Looking at the business model for a restaurant, I could see how one could focus on the purpose: get food into people. It might be easy to say providing restroom facilities is an unnecessary expense, since it is diametrically off the purpose. However, a different perspective might prove otherwise. Don’t get fooled into thinking patient education is an extra service of health care providers. It IS the service.

I propose a health care organization that focuses on providing the highest quality patient and family education would easily stand out in the crowd as providing the best care. Even if it didn’t offer the most experienced surgeons who regularly publish in peer reviewed journals.

8 Responses to “What is the purpose of patient education in hospitals?”

  1. Mary Jean Jergenson says:

    Thought-provoking and well-stated. As always. Thank you, Fran. mj

  2. Sandy Cornett says:

    Excellent!! Love the analogy to the restaurant.

  3. Thanks, Sandy and Mary Jean. I really appreciate the feedback, no matter how brief.

  4. 9/2/10
    Fran, I am a health educator/editor in Patient and Family Education Services at University of Washington Medical Center, in Seattle. My department sends a quarterly newsletter to staff in all the units here. The newsletter features recently completed patient education materials, information about health education and patient and family centered care, and the like.

    I wonder if we could include this post in our next newsletter, which we are putting together now. I think it would really get our readers’ attention.
    Thanks for letting me know.


  5. Debby, thanks for asking! Yes, you may quote me if you give me credit (Fran London, MS, RN) and provide the URL link so readers can come to this site themselves. I invite and encourage interaction here. I’d like to hear about the observations and experiences of others, and even opinions that conflict with mine. There’s a lot going on in patient education these days — it’s a growing field — and we have a lot to talk about.

  6. PF Anderson says:

    Bravo, Fran! Personally, I have been a believer for decades in the philosophy that free access to high quality information combined with a solid education in critical reasoning skills is the essential combination in promoting good choices and decisionmaking. I’m not sure how effective it is in practice, but it is the most ethical way to promote change I can think of. You are describing a scenario in which this approach has actually proven successful and significant. Thank goodness!

  7. Thanks so much, Fran. We will certainly credit you and provide the URL link. We’ve actually posted the link in previous newsletters, so you may already have some new followers from here!


  8. Fran, I’d like to e-mail you a copy of our fall newsletter, which includes this post, but I’m not sure how to reach you directly.

    Please e-mail me if you’d like it and what address to send it to.


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