Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Patient education - a valuable part of health care

Providing patient education is a very important aspect of quality health care and is the responsibility of all the healthcare professionals. In an ideal world, all healthcare professionals would have the time and resources to provide good patient education to all patients. The problem lies in lack of time, lack of resources, and even lack of ability sometimes.

As a nurse, one of the tasks I enjoyed most was the patient education part of my work. If I had a patient who was newly diagnosed with diabetes, I liked the challenge of educating this person about the disease. If a patient was coming in with recurrent asthma attacks, again, patient education was called for. Teaching an elderly patient about a new medication protocol, helping someone learn how to look after a dying family member, these were all parts of my job that made me feel like I was actually making a difference. Unfortunately though, we didn’t always have the tools to reach all the patients.

While we may have pamphlets or hand outs, not all the patients learn best that way, and we don’t always have time sit down and spend quality teaching time. And what about the teaching needs that weren’t so obvious? These include how to help patients learn how to ask for help, how to communicate with their doctors, and even how to identify that they need to learn things.

As our patients have so many different abilities in terms of comprehension, learning style, education, and even language ability, there is no one-size-fits all approach to patient education. Many institutions are great for having pamphlets to hand out that may explain someone’s new diagnosis or treatment – but not everyone learns well by reading. Adults have particular learning styles. They can be visual learners, auditory learners, or kinaesthetic and tactile learners – or a combination thereof. In the healthcare system, we tend to forget that people learn in different ways. Some like to have things demonstrated, others like to read about it, and yet others need to actually do it in order for it to be processed together. Or, they can need all three, but which style depends on what they’re trying to learn.

A new study about asthma education just came out. One of the findings was that the education that was being done was not consistent so the studies couldn’t identify what was working or not. One expert commented on the study and pointed out that education is the mainstay of chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, to name a few. The better educated the patients are, the better they can care for themselves, or the better they can recognize signs that they need help – earlier in the disease process – allowing them to get proper help before the situation becomes too serious.

Educating patients on how and when to take their medications properly decreases the incidence of non-compliance (patients not taking their medications properly), overdoses, and serious side effects. Teaching people how to make their home safe to reduce falls reduces emergency room visits and hospital stays, particularly among the elderly.

As medical or health writers, we often take on the role of educator too. We describe illnesses, injuries, treatments, and outcomes. We report on new therapies and treatments that have been deemed not safe. It’s our role to be sure that the information we are getting across to the public is accurate, timely, and, importantly, actionable. There’s no point in telling a person that the drug they are taking isn’t considered safe any more but there aren’t any options. Even if it is “continue taking the medication until you have discussed this with your doctor,” we have to give them something to do.

Lots of interesting news today!
Can't resist putting this one in. :-)
Asthma Education in the ER Could Help Patients Avoid Repeat Hospital Stays

Better Births Feature Continuous Care for Moms, “Kangaroo” Care for Kids
Growth Hormone Injections Add Height, But Kids Stay Short
Vitamin C Offers Little Protection Against Colds
Exercise, exercise, rest, repeat -- How a break can help your workout
U.S. children's hospital using Toronto technology to screen brain injuries
Nonsmall cell lung cancer -- chemotherapy before surgery appears better than surgery alone
Orthodontic treatment -- no better in childhood than during adolescence
Colposcopy: Playing music helps women relax
Diet very high in fruit, vegetables does not appear to reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence
New review adds more reasons to avoid diabetes drug Avandia
ABILIFY(R) (aripiprazole) Supplemental New Drug Application Receives Priority Review by U.S. FDA for Adjunctive Treatment in Adults With Major Depressive Disorder
FDA Approves Extina(R) for the Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis
Acetaminophen Safe, Effective After Wisdom Tooth Removal


Crabby McSlacker said...

I never really thought about what a tough job patient education must be from the clinician's standpoint. There's so little time, and even well-educated cooperative patients sometimes have a hard time understanding everything they need to know, let alone those who have more obstacles to understanding and following through.

And wow, what a great list of studies you're compiling!

Dawn said...

And if you had a patient come in with - say - a splinter in their foot, what advice would you give them? Mmmmm?

Hope it's out and healing well.

Marijke Durning said...

Good question Dawn, I'd have to think about that one. {grin}
I'm happy to report that said foreign object has been removed from my tender foot and I'm hoping that it will start to feel better soon.