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Nurses at the Forefront of Patient Education

A Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) degree program prepares nurses to deliver quality patient care, but nurses also are instrumental in educating patients about preventive health measures and living with chronic illnesses. Besides providing treatment and dispensing medication, nurses must know how to communicate self-care instructions to patients for successful health outcomes. Patient education can be beneficial to both patients and healthcare organizations.

Why Is Patient Education Important?

Patients who are educated about proper nutrition, exercise and self-care learn how to change damaging behaviors so they can stay healthy. Patient education involves two components of nursing. First, nurses should give patients an explanation regarding their diagnosis, treatment options and what to expect before and after procedures are performed. This is the clinical aspect of patient care. Second, nurses should inform patients about self-care, wellness and prevention. These actions are necessary for a patient’s recovery and overall well-being.

What Are the Benefits of Patient Education?

Health education benefits not just the patient but healthcare organizations too. Knowledgeable patients spend less time in the hospital, saving the facility valuable resources. Patient satisfaction scores also tend to be higher, which helps with funding.

Through patient education, nurses establish a reciprocal relationship. Patients gain a better understanding of their medical condition and feel comfortable asking questions and seeking assistance. Here are other benefits to promoting patient education:

  • Letting patients have a say in their care.
  • Preparing patients to care for themselves at home.
  • Nurturing patient trust, confidence and satisfaction.
  • Easing patient anxiety about treatment.
  • Collaborating with patients about course of action.
  • Strengthening communication with patient.

How to Instruct Patients?

Nurses should always answer a patient’s questions. A conversational tone and plain language — free of technical terms and medical jargon — can go a long way in increasing a patient’s comfort level.

To ensure patients understand what you are teaching them, it is helpful to have them repeat back to you what was discussed. Return demonstration is a teaching method that nurses use to help patients learn self-care. After nurses administer a treatment, the patient is asked to show that they can accomplish the same task.

Not everyone retains information the same way, so skilled nurses tailor instruction to fit the patient. These are examples of resources for patient education:

  • Brochures.
  • Customized printed handouts.
  • Video tutorials.
  • Websites.

What Is Healthcare Literacy?

Healthcare literacy means patients are capable of gathering, deciphering and understanding information so they can make appropriate decisions about their health. Patients who do not have good literacy may find it difficult to navigate the healthcare system, which involves filling out complicated forms and locating medical assistance. In addition, they may not engage in self-care to manage their diseases. Thus, healthcare-illiterate patients may suffer from preventable risks and serious health issues due to straying from prescription directions, forgoing childhood immunizations or disregarding medical test instructions about eating and drinking.

The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) — still the standard for health literacy assessment — sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics was the first national assessment of health literacy. The study concluded that “only 12 percent of U.S. adults had proficient health literacy,” and over a third of U.S. adults, or 77 million adults, had basic or below basic health literacy.”

What Are Some Tips for Improving Patient Education?

The worst time for hospital patient education is at discharge. Instead, patient instruction should start at admission and carry on throughout a patient’s stay. Here are some tips for nurses:

  • Use every opportunity during a patient’s stay to educate them.
  • Pinpoint what the patient already knows and clear up misinformation.
  • Focus on continuity of patient education during staff changes.
  • Reinforce a patient’s knowledge about medication schedule, dosage and side effects.
  • Request that a patient tell you how they would explain their condition and treatment to a family member.
  • Incorporate return demonstration when providing care.

Patient education is a crucial part of nursing. Nurses need to remain compassionate and diligent about patients comprehending information. Education is an effective tool for encouraging patients to participate in stabilizing or maintaining their health. When patients are proactive in their own care plan, they may be more forthcoming about their symptoms and responsive to probing inquires about their health. Therefore, patients may increase their chances of preventing diseases, managing chronic conditions and recovering from illnesses or injuries.

Learn more about the A-State online RN to BSN program.


U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: America’s Health Literacy: Why We Need Accessible Health Information Five Tips for Providing Effective Patient Education

NursingLink: Understanding Healthcare Literacy in Patient Education

Nurse Journal: Tips to Improve Patient Education

Maxident: The Importance and the Benefits of Patient Education

Houston Chronicle: Role of Patient Teaching for the Professional Nurse

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