5 tips to help nurses improve patient education skills

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In todays health care environment, nurses must provide patient education as part of routine care to improve the likelihood of positive outcomes. &ldquo...

In today’s health care environment, nurses must provide patient education as part of routine care to improve the likelihood of positive outcomes.

“There is a new emphasis on better discharge planning, patient self-management of chronic disease, and patient engagement, said Beth Stuckey, RN, MS, CNE, assistant professor, nursing at American Sentinel University. “Patient education is critical to all of these initiatives and nurses need to know what works and what doesn’t, when it comes to shaping patient behavior.”

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Stuckey says patient education, like most nursing competencies, is a skill that develops over time, and it takes practice and commitment. “Patient engagement should not be considered a one-time event, but rather part of an ongoing conversation with your patients to be most effective.”

Stuckey offered the following tips to nurses to help them master the role of patient educator.

1. Take an individualized approach.

The most common mistake a nurse makes in patient education is teaching based on the patient’s medical condition rather than on the patient’s individualized needs and learning ability.

“An individualized approach is by far the most effective method and begins with an assessment of the patient’s needs and capacity to learn,” she says. Stuckey notes that when patients are in pain, medicated or experiencing emotional distress, their ability to concentrate and take in new information can be hindered. “So it’s important to assess the patient’s physical, psychological, and cognitive readiness to engage in learning,” she adds.

2. Keep the education patient-centered.

Stuckey says it is critical nurses provide information in the patient’s language or preference. 

“It’s important that nurses never assume that just because a patient speaks English that they can read or write in English. And never assume that the patient’s family members can interpret what you are teaching.” Best practice supports the use of a professional interpreter to assure patient understanding and, therefore, increase the odds of success.

3. Support your patient’s ownership of health.

In the new health care landscape, nurses no longer simply tell their patients what directions to follow. Now they make the patient an integral part of the team. “It’s our responsibility as nurses to advocate for our patient’s rights and help them to voice their thoughts, opinions, and ideas, rather than just give a list of directions to them.”

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She says a nurse’s goal is “adherence” to the discharge plan, in which the patient is an active member in its creation. The terms “compliance” and “non-compliance” connote a paternalistic approach that the patient is either following or not following direction dictated to them.

4. Use the teach-back method.

When giving discharge instructions or teaching a patient how to dress a wound, Stuckey says it’s easy to fall into the trap of asking, “do you understand?” and being satisfied with a nod in response. She says this is not an effective way to gauge a patient’s comprehension of knowledge or mastery of self-management skills. Instead, studies from the American Medical Association validate and experts recommend using the teach-back method.

The teach-back method involves two-way dialog, which allows a nurse to more easily reinforce health information. When a nurse finishes teaching, they ask the patient to explain it back to them in their words.

“Likewise, when you finish demonstrating a procedure, nurses must ask the patient to demonstrate it on their own,” she says.  This practice helps a nurse determine where the gaps in the patient’s knowledge exist and works to connect the dots.

5. Use patient interactions as opportunity to teach.

There can never be enough communication when nurses educate their patients. “We never know when will be the right time to discuss a topic and if that patient will absorb what we are teaching, so it is important to approach teaching in different ways and different times,” she adds.

Patient education and career advancement 

Stuckey points out that nurses who discover they have an aptitude and passion for patient education can pursue jobs that allow them to put this critical skill to good use.

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She says it’s a win-win situation. “Nurses can advance their careers while providing enhanced care to their patients.”

Home health nurses often engage in patient education at a higher level than do traditional bedside nurses and teach patients how to care for a PICC line or ostomy pouch.

In addition, hospitals are currently adding positions that put nurses in charge of post-discharge care and instruction. Nurses can even find work in a private physician practice as a diabetes educator or prenatal educator and pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies also hire nurses to act as patient educators. 

“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the significant shortage of nurse educators. This field is the best of two worlds – teaching and nursing. I encourage all nurses interested in continuing to learn about their profession in order to prepare the future of nursing to pursue a degree in nursing education. We would welcome them with open arms.”

The first step for a nurse to fine-tune their career is to empower themselves with knowledge. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees, including an RN to BSN program and advanced MSN degree programs with focused coursework that helps prepare nurses for a career in case management, infection prevention and control, nursing education, informatics, and nursing management and organizational leadership.

Learn more about American Sentinel’s online nursing degree programs at www.americansentinel.edu/nursing.

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