Millions of people enter the hospital each year for critical conditions, accidents, or surgeries. Besides the physical pain, the experience can cause emotional trauma as well. The fear, anxiety, and shock can be overwhelming. The patient’s family often struggles with a sense of frustration and helplessness. For families of neonates in NICUs, those feelings can be even more profound. Relieving these emotions requires hospitals to have a comprehensive program for educating patients and their families about the patient’s condition and care plan, providing as much detail as possible throughout the entire episode of care. But far too often, that doesn’t happen.
It’s not hard to remember a time when patients and their families were kept in the dark about what was going on. “Doctor knows best” was the motto and patients and their families just had to blindly trust the providers were doing what was best for the patient. But studies now show that patients who are more educated about their health conditions make better decisions about their care. And when patients and families make better decisions, it increases care plan compliance, a critical element for achieving quality outcomes.
Post-discharge patients are 30% less likely to be readmitted or to visit the ER if they understand their care plan instructions.
Yet even with this research, many hospitals and health systems still do just the minimal in the way of patient and family education. Whether due to a lack of resources, poor supervision, or just a weak culture, when hospitals don’t see value of sharing knowledge, patients suffer.
Designing an Educational Program
Following are three actions hospitals can take to begin designing a comprehensive education program for patients and their families.
Increase access to information. Transitioning from an acute care environment to the home can cause a great deal of anxiety, especially for patients who were being treated in a critical care unit or for their family caregivers. Between the time the patient receives discharge instructions to the time the patient arrives home, a lot of information can be forgotten. The result can be confusion on things such as when to change a dressing or how often to take medication. The latter is especially problematic as studies show that up to 40% of patients over 65 experience medication errors after discharge. The same study found that 18% of Medicare patients are readmitted within just 30 days after discharge due to complications. Patients and their families need a way to easily access that information whenever and from wherever they need it. Paper instructions can get lost or misplaced and verbal instructions can be misunderstood and easily forgotten. Having ready access from a mobile device or desktop gives patients and their family added confidence that they have the information needed to manage at-home care.
Create an online educational resource center. In the same vein as having access to information when and where they need it, patients need that information to be comprehensive, yet easy to understand. Documentation should be available to print for patients who prefer to have a physical copy of instructions. Information should be specific to each patient’s unique condition and care plan needs. If you don’t want to customize to each patient, you should at least customize to the condition. You also want to make sure the information is accessible my family members and that it’s available for as long as the patient is in recovery at home.
Providers and case managers should be able to view which documents or videos have been viewed and by whom. If a patient hasn’t viewed any documents, this may be a red flag for non-compliance. Caregivers can schedule follow-up calls to address any concerns or questions that may arise.
Create educational videos. Video has now become the format of choice for many educational programs, primarily because people retain more of what they learn. Reading step-by-step static instructions on a piece of paper can be confusing. But showing those same instructions in a video helps the patient or family member better understand the procedure. Even more beneficial is taking the video with the actual patient in the hospital setting prior to discharge. This can be especially effective for things like enteral feeding or treating wounds.
A Key Part of Your Quality Initiatives
Achieving and maintaining key quality criteria has a direct impact on a hospital’s HCAHPS scores, not to mention its long-term viability. And having a comprehensive education program for patients and their families is an essential part of that effort. Educated patients make take a more active role in their own health and are more likely to stay in compliance with their care plan. Hospitals benefit through better outcomes, increased reimbursement, and improved patient satisfaction.