5 tips to help nurses improve patient education skills
In today’s health care environment, nurses must provide patient education as part of routine care to improve the likelihood of positive outcomes.
“There is a new emphasis on better discharge planning, patient self-management of chronic disease, and patient engagement, said Beth Stuckey, RN, MS, CNE, assistant professor, nursing at American Sentinel University. “Patient education is critical to all of these initiatives and nurses need to know what works and what doesn’t, when it comes to shaping patient behavior.”
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Stuckey says patient education, like most nursing competencies, is a skill that develops over time, and it takes practice and commitment. “Patient engagement should not be considered a one-time event, but rather part of an ongoing conversation with your patients to be most effective.”
Stuckey offered the following tips to nurses to help them master the role of patient educator.
1. Take an individualized approach.
The most common mistake a nurse makes in patient education is teaching based on the patient’s medical condition rather than on the patient’s individualized needs and learning ability.
“An individualized approach is by far the most effective method and begins with an assessment of the patient’s needs and capacity to learn,” she says. Stuckey notes that when patients are in pain, medicated or experiencing emotional distress, their ability to concentrate and take in new information can be hindered. “So it’s important to assess the patient’s physical, psychological, and cognitive readiness to engage in learning,” she adds.
2. Keep the education patient-centered.
Stuckey says it is critical nurses provide information in the patient’s language or preference.
“It’s important that nurses never assume that just because a patient speaks English that they can read or write in English. And never assume that the patient’s family members can interpret what you are teaching.” Best practice supports the use of a professional interpreter to assure patient understanding and, therefore, increase the odds of success.
3. Support your patient’s ownership of health.
In the new health care landscape, nurses no longer simply tell their patients what directions to follow. Now they make the patient an integral part of the team. “It’s our responsibility as nurses to advocate for our patient’s rights and help them to voice their thoughts, opinions, and ideas, rather than just give a list of directions to them.”
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She says a nurse’s goal is “adherence” to the discharge plan, in which the patient is an active member in its creation. The terms “compliance” and “non-compliance” connote a paternalistic approach that the patient is either following or not following direction dictated to them.
4. Use the teach-back method.
When giving discharge instructions or teaching a patient how to dress a wound, Stuckey says it’s easy to fall into the trap of asking, “do you understand?” and being satisfied with a nod in response. She says this is not an effective way to gauge a patient’s comprehension of knowledge or mastery of self-management skills. Instead, studies from the American Medical Association validate and experts recommend using the teach-back method.
The teach-back method involves two-way dialog, which allows a nurse to more easily reinforce health information. When a nurse finishes teaching, they ask the patient to explain it back to them in their words.
“Likewise, when you finish demonstrating a procedure, nurses must ask the patient to demonstrate it on their own,” she says. This practice helps a nurse determine where the gaps in the patient’s knowledge exist and works to connect the dots.
5. Use patient interactions as opportunity to teach.
There can never be enough communication when nurses educate their patients. “We never know when will be the right time to discuss a topic and if that patient will absorb what we are teaching, so it is important to approach teaching in different ways and different times,” she adds.
Patient education and career advancement
Stuckey points out that nurses who discover they have an aptitude and passion for patient education can pursue jobs that allow them to put this critical skill to good use.
She says it’s a win-win situation. “Nurses can advance their careers while providing enhanced care to their patients.”
Home health nurses often engage in patient education at a higher level than do traditional bedside nurses and teach patients how to care for a PICC line or ostomy pouch.
In addition, hospitals are currently adding positions that put nurses in charge of post-discharge care and instruction. Nurses can even find work in a private physician practice as a diabetes educator or prenatal educator and pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies also hire nurses to act as patient educators.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the significant shortage of nurse educators. This field is the best of two worlds – teaching and nursing. I encourage all nurses interested in continuing to learn about their profession in order to prepare the future of nursing to pursue a degree in nursing education. We would welcome them with open arms.”
The first step for a nurse to fine-tune their career is to empower themselves with knowledge. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees, including an RN to BSN program and advanced MSN degree programs with focused coursework that helps prepare nurses for a career in case management, infection prevention and control, nursing education, informatics, and nursing management and organizational leadership.
Learn more about American Sentinel’s online nursing degree programs at www.americansentinel.edu/nursing.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.