HealthAugust 05, 2022

10 tactics to improve patient teaching

By: Collette Bishop Hendler, RN, MS, MA, CIC
Evidence shows that patients with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to engage in their health care have better outcomes.

Nurses assume a great deal of the responsibility for making sure that patients have the necessary knowledge and skills to give them the confidence to engage in their health care. For patients to take an active role in their health care they need to understand their personal and familial risk factors and prevention strategies, and if present, their conditions and treatment regimens.

Patients need comprehensive teaching that addresses the skills needed to help them transition understanding into action. By focusing on health literacy nurses can help enable patients to find, understand, and use information and services to inform their care and future health-related decisions.

Preparing for educating patients

Whether teaching a new parent about lactation or instructing an older adult with heart failure about the condition, good outcomes depend on quality patient teaching. How can nurses improve teaching to help patients understand health information and reduce the likelihood of complications?

First, determine the patient’s readiness to learn. Does the patient express a desire to learn, or does the patient resist teaching? It’s difficult to teach a patient who lacks the desire to learn. Try to stimulate the patient’s interest by explaining the benefits of learning for that patient. For example, understanding a specific health condition, reduces potential risks, such as diminished quality of life, higher medical costs, increased symptoms, and the risk for altered work and ever-day life. Establish rapport with the patient, ask questions, and consider the patient’s preferences.

10 tactics to improve patient teaching

After establishing rapport with the patient, nurses can use these 10 tactics to improve patient teaching.

1. Assess the patient’s learning style

Ask how the patient learns best to determine the most appropriate teaching materials. For example, a visual learner might prefer illustrations, photos, or diagrams, while an auditory learner may prefer verbal explanations or podcasts.

2. Determine the patient’s strengths and limitations

Does the patient have any physical, developmental, or psychological impairments that impact learning ability? For example, a patient might suffer from fatigue that prevents lengthy teaching sessions or a patient with visual impairment may require handouts with large print.

3. Identify the patient’s individual learning needs

Gather answers to a variety of questions. What’s the patient’s education level? What are the patient’s goals? What does the patient already know about the subject? What support system does the patient have?

4. Use available technology

Technology makes it easier to access patient teaching information that fits the patient’s unique needs. Facilities commonly have resources that can be customized and printed for patients in their preferred language. After printing such resources, review them with the patient to make sure the patient understands the information. Internet sources are also available. For example, the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology has online videos to help teach patients about asthma, including a video titled, Asthma care during COVID-19.

5. Involve family members (or significant friends)

When family members are included in teaching, patients tend to apply the knowledge because these people play a significant role in the patient’s health care management.

6. Communicate clearly

Clear communication means using concepts, words, numbers, and images in ways that makes sense to the patient needing the information. Avoid medical terminology or jargon that the patient doesn’t understand. Clear communication builds trust, so patients are more likely to follow the presented information.

7. Teach patients with each encounter from admission

Take advantage of teachable moments with any patient contact. When administering medications, tell the patient the name of the drug, the dose, and explain why it’s being given. Explain diagnostic tests and how they apply to the patient’s condition. If the patient receives a special diet, use the opportunity for dietary teaching when choosing foods from the facility menu.

8. Consider the patient’s culture, beliefs, and ethnic customs

A patient’s religion, culture, beliefs, and ethnic customs can influence the individual’s understanding of health concepts, selfcare, and health care decisions. Without proper training, nurses may teach the patient without understanding how beliefs, cultural and ethnic customs affect the way the health care information is received. By asking the patient about religion, culture, and ethnic customs, nurses can engage patients, so that they can devise treatment plans that foster patient values.

9. Ask the patient to describe how they’ll follow the instructions in their own words

This method, known as the teach-back method, can help nurses evaluate the patient’s understanding of the taught information.

10. Follow-up with the patient

Contact the patient later to check on the patient’s progress. Follow-up can help identify misunderstandings and answer questions. It also helps promote a good collaborative relationship between the staff and patients.

Teaching patients and their families can be challenging but rewarding. High-quality patient teaching helps improve patient understanding and helps improve patient outcomes dramatically. 

Explore how Lippincott Advisor can support nurse teams with patient education materials.

Learn More About Lippincott Advisor
Collette Bishop Hendler, RN, MS, MA, CIC
Editor-in-Chief, Lippincott Solutions, Point-of-Care, Wolters Kluwer Health
Collette is certified by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. as an infection preventionist. She has more than 15 years of experience in critical care nursing and maintains Alumnus Status as a Critical-Care Registered Nurse.
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