Strategies for Improving Health Education in Patients

Going to a hospital — or even a doctor’s office, for that matter — can be a bit scary for patients. It can be intimidating for the average person when a healthcare provider begins using confusing Latin words and jargony medical talk as they discuss a patient’s various ailments.

While proper communication between healthcare professionals is essential to high-quality care, it’s also important for staff to consider how they’re interacting with their patients, too. This task doesn’t just fall to physicians, but to nurses, as well. A key component of a nurse’s job description is communicating with and educating patients, helping them feel comfortable with their care plan, and welcome to ask questions.

Here are five recommendations for ways that medical staff can improve patient education.

Establish Trust Between Patients and Healthcare Professionals

First and foremost, if a proper exchange of information is going to take place, trust must be established between a patient and their healthcare professional. The ability to show empathy and create a rapport with patients is one of the key skills of successful nurses.

Initially establishing a solid foundation of trust encourages patient adaptation, collaboration, and security in the healthcare process. In contrast, an absence of trust can lead to a lack of respect and poor overall quality of care.

In order to cultivate patient-provider confidence, RNs should focus on the five antecedents of trust:

  • Building trust on the initial visit.
  • Meeting patient’s needs.
  • Respecting the patient.
  • Giving adequate time.
  • Providing consistent care.

If trust can be fostered from the inception of a relationship, it can streamline and promote health education in the future.

Take Advantage of Technology

There is always a natural barrier of information and professional expertise between patients and nurses. This is only exacerbated by the fact that 40-80% of all medical information given to patients is forgotten immediately.

Not only that, but the more information shared, the lower the retention rate. This makes important transfers of information, such as teaching an amputee to use a wheelchair or a prosthetic limb, especially difficult, due to the large amount of data that must be communicated.

It’s wise, therefore, to always be on the lookout for technology that can enhance the patient education experience. A few examples of current technology that aids in health education include:

  • Online patient portals: These easy-to-access online systems enable patients to see test results, locate prescriptions, and study informational material related to their diagnoses.
  • Remote patient monitoring: RPM enables healthcare professionals to gather and exchange important information with patients quickly, efficiently, and outside of traditional healthcare settings.
  • Text reminders: Patients can even be kept abreast of the logistics of the healthcare system by utilizing texts for things such as appointment reminders and prescriptions refills.

These are just a few of the many ways that health education can be enhanced through the use of technology. Caregivers with a particular interest or talent for balancing technology with clinical medicine can even specialize in informatics and support greater use of digital tools to support healthcare. The critical factor is that nurses and educators maintain a continuous learning mindset in order to take advantage of new tech-driven skills and tools as they are developed.

Understand Patients’ Different Learning Styles

Everyone has a different learning style that they prefer, and it’s important that healthcare professionals learn to accommodate these learning styles in the name of quality health education.

While there is a great deal of nuance in each individual situation, the various styles of learning are often broken down into four distinct categories:

  • Visual learners.
  • Auditory learners.
  • Reading and writing learners.
  • Kinesthetic learners.

It’s critical that educators use the trust that they’ve developed with a patient in order to identify their preferred style of learning. Then, they must try to adapt the needed information to that format.

On the one hand, if you encounter a patient who prefers a visual or reading learning style, this is often an excellent opportunity to utilize the various technological tools, such as using online portals to provide visual and written resources.

On the other hand, children, who are typically kinesthetic learners, may require one-on-one teaching and demonstrations rather than information-dense resources. Regardless of the situation, healthcare providers should always strive to accommodate each patient’s individual learning proclivities.

Be Mindful of Patients’ Strengths and Weaknesses

It’s important to remember that patients are not in the same place or state of mind as the members of their care team. In fact, particularly when relaying important information in connection to a medical diagnosis, patients will typically be in a deeply personal, often agitated or overwhelmed state of mind.

This is why it’s crucial that anyone providing health education keeps the patient’s natural strengths and weaknesses in mind as they go along. At times physical weaknesses must be addressed, such as using speech-to-text devices to help a blind person share information.

At other times mental instability, emotional exhaustion, or even age, such as communicating with a very old or young individual, can impact a patient’s ability to retain information.

It’s wise to always use the teach-back method in order to ensure that a patient has properly grasped what is expected of them. Share critical information using their learning style and available tech and then have the patient teach the information back to you. This allows you to confirm that they understand what has been taught or to provide correction if necessary.

Keep Family and Loved Ones Involved

Finally, it’s important to remember that part of the metaparadigm of nursing is maintaining a holistic experience that considers the personal component of the patient, including their family and friends. This isn’t just referring to keeping everyone up to date on a current medical diagnosis. It’s also essential that the right people surrounding a patient are educated on what may be expected of them.

With this in mind, nurses should always stress with their patients how important it is for loved ones to be in-the-know and understand all medical procedures and processes that they may be required to help with.

Patient confidentiality should obviously always be observed. However, whenever a patient-sanctioned opportunity to instruct a friend or family member arises, healthcare professionals should do their best to accommodate accordingly. The dissemination of health education can ensure that vital procedures are followed correctly and can enable a patient’s support system to be more effective.

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