Over the years, I have taught many patients. Recently, an experience as a family member reminded me how important a patient educator’s approach is to ensure a teaching session is effective.
I promised to help my sister-in-law through major surgery. We prepared by reading the instruction pamphlet given to her at the surgeon’s office weeks before. I held the booklet in my lap along with a list of questions we had prepared. When the nurse patient educator, Pat, came to talk with us, she took out a copy of the same manual. I indicated we had received it, read it and had questions. Pat did not take my cue. She started her educational spiel. She talked quickly going over everything we had already read. We were already anxious about the surgery. Now we became concerned that Pat would do all the talking and leave us with our questions unanswered. I found it difficult to interrupt her, but somehow I was able to ask our questions when she paused a second to take a much needed breath. Pat answered them, but went right back to her outline. It was as if she had a certain amount of material to go over, and she was going to finish despite us. Because of our rising anxiety, I am not sure either of us heard much of what Pat said. Interrupting was hard work, and I was exhausted. We were glad when Pat left and was not excited to have her back to “teach” us. So what could have Pat done differently that would have been more effective?
The answer to that question can be answered by comparing Pat with our discharge nurse patient educator, Sue. Although Sue had a list of discharge instructions in her hand, she paused and answered our questions as she reviewed the information. When it was obvious that we understood her point, she went onto the next item on her list. She frequently asked if we had questions. Sue’s approach decreased our anxiety allowing us to hear the information she was giving us. We were happy with the session and confident we could go home knowing what we needed to do.
In summary, Sue was more effective because unlike Pat she:
1. Created a dialog instead of lecturing to us only
2. Made it clear that our need to have our questions answered was more important than her need to give us all of the information
3. Made us feel she welcomed questions
Next time you are getting ready to teach a patient, remember to focus on the patient, not the information. First ask your patient what questions he has. Don’t forget that the patient may not hear anything you have to say until his anxiety is decreased. You do that by giving him the information he most wants and needs first. You can always give the rest of the information later. Remember your approach to a patient’s teaching session is as important as the information you are going to teach.