1. Overgaard, Penny Morgan RN, BSN, FAHCEP

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Q: What are some tips to help improve my patient teaching skills?

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A: Research shows that excellent patient teaching improves outcomes and even saves lives. Quality patient teaching requires providing education during every encounter. Use these five strategies to help make a difference for your patient and his family members.


* Find out what works. First, ask your patient how he learns best and teach to match that style. Try asking, "The last time you learned something new, what worked best?" If he likes to write everything down, have a pen and paper nearby. Remember, a person who learns by doing needs to practice new skills using his hands; even showing him several times may not mean he can do it himself without practice.


* Let your patient play. Give him equipment to handle to help increase his comfort level. Allow him to inspect the tools he'll use at home, such as syringes and blood glucose meters, and have him teach family members how things work. Experience with equipment will translate into better skills for your patient.


* Encourage preplanning. Instead of providing everything for your patient, have him gather supplies, if possible, or have him list for you what he'll need. Ask where he plans to keep supplies at home. How will he carry the supplies with him when not at home? Are there special precautions or instructions for medications he needs to know? In the hospital, everything is close by and readily available but at home and while traveling, preparation takes planning. Also, don't forget your own preplanning, such as having supportive materials (printed or otherwise) available for your patient and using facility-provided teaching tools as necessary.


* Be an encourager. Remember, problem solving takes time and practice makes perfect. Offer gentle encouragement rather than a quick fix to prepare your patient to care for himself. Real learning can't take place until he does it himself.


* Don't save the day!! Don't worry if things don't go smoothly. The perfect time for problems is in the hospital. For example, if your patient receives an error message while checking his blood glucose level, ask him what he thinks went wrong and what he should do now. Give him a few seconds to decide what to do. Don't jump in to rescue him or do things yourself unless he's in danger. Instead, use verbal cues to guide him back onto the right track. Make suggestions only if he can't come up with a workable solution, then ask what might have gone better. Ask questions to teach problem solving; for example, "That insulin shot went perfectly but what would happen if the syringe dropped on the floor?" Or, "What would you do if you had an emergency in the car?" Help your patient make a plan to use when help isn't readily available.



An important part of nursing is to make sure that patients are ready to care for themselves at home. These five easy methods will help refine your teaching and make every minute count.


Learn more about it


Gallefoss F. The effects of patient education in COPD in a 1-year follow-up randomized, controlled trial. Patient Educ Couns. 2004;52(3):259-266.


Koelling TM, Johnson ML, Cody RJ, Aaronson KD. Discharge education improves clinical outcomes in patients with chronic heart failure. Circulation. 2005;111(2):179-185.


London F. No Time To Teach: A Nurse's Guide to Patient and Family Education. Atlanta, GA: Pritchett & Hull; 2009.


Runge C, Lecheler J, Horn M, et al. Outcomes of a Web-based patient education program for asthmatic children and adolescents. Chest. 2006;129(3):581-593.