6 Tips for Nurses When Performing Patient Discharge Education

October was health literacy month—the time of year that recognizes health information and the importance of making it easier to understand. As nurses, we play a vital role in health literacy and patient education. Patient education is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. Without a good education, patients can leave healthcare facilities such as hospitals or surgical centers confused and at risk of making mistakes. 

Clear communication is essential for patients to understand their discharge instructions and to prevent readmissions. Nurses should use simple language when providing discharge instructions, provide step-by-step directions, and allow time for questions. The following tips can help ensure that your patients understand their discharge instructions and can follow them after they leave the hospital.  

#1 Keep the education patient-centered 

When educating patients, it should be done in a manner that the patient will benefit from. An individualized approach can give the patient an edge when retaining information. If the patient is a visual learner, printouts can be used. If English is not their first language, obtain a translator or paperwork in their preferred language.  

Not all patients are as knowledgeable as healthcare workers regarding medical information. It is important to remember even what we think is common knowledge may not be common knowledge for others. Patients may not be aware of taking certain medications with food or not taking two pills if they miss a dose. They may not know the signs or symptoms of a surgical wound infection after they go home from surgery. It is essential to not assume the patient’s education level with healthcare and to be as thorough as possible. 

#2 Provide a handout and highlight important statements  

Patients may have difficulty remembering all the information and instructions when leaving a healthcare facility. The patient may have to remember specific wound dressing changes, new medication times, diet changes, and other restrictions. Some people may find this amount of information overwhelming, especially after being sick or having surgery.  

Sending patients home with a handout with all the necessary information can help them refer back to any information later when needed. 

Highlighting important information can draw the patient’s attention when reviewing the handout later. Giving an overview of all the essential information while pointing out the information on the paper can help the patient retain more education.   

#3 Teach-Back method 

The teach-back method is a great way to help ensure patients retain information. After reviewing a segment of the discharge instructions, you can ask the patient a follow-up question where they have to repeat the information back to you for clarification. For example, after reviewing the patient’s new medication times, you can ask, “At what time would you take your next pain pill when you get home?”  

Being sick, tired, or in shock can prevent people from understanding the education needed to keep them safe when they get home. If you ask patients if they understand the discharge instructions, they could just say “yes” but not truly comprehend what was just taught to them. Asking a direct question about the material for them to repeat what was learned will help solidify the information.  

#4 Keep it brief and allow the patient to ask questions  

When going over the patient’s discharge instructions, it is best to keep it brief and allow the patient time to process the information and ask questions before moving on. Pick a few critical learning points and emphasize them to the patient, then allow any follow-up questions before moving on to the next subject, pause, and give the patient ample time to respond. 

Efficient engagement with the patient can play a critical role in their education. Respecting and advocating for the patient by giving them simple-to-understand instructions can encourage them to ask questions and get clarification when needed. Engaging with and monitoring the patient’s responses while educating them can give you keys to how they may interpret the information.   

#5 Include family members or caregivers 

Patients can feel overwhelmed with new information, and vulnerable populations such as the elderly or people with disabilities may not retain all of the data. Family members and caregivers are a great resource to patients when it comes to remembering discharge instructions. Having someone there to also hear and learn the information can benefit the patient’s recovery at home. 

When a second party like family is involved in the discharge instructions, it improves the chances that the patient will follow through with the instructions. Family and other caregivers can reinforce the information’s importance and ensure the patient gets the care they need. The family will know the patient best and how to help them understand concepts that may be more difficult.  

#6 Start education before the patient goes home  

Education should start as soon as the information is available to give the patient. All the education in a few minutes before they leave can be overwhelming and can cause the information to not be retained. Over time, small amounts of data are easier to retain than all of the information at once before they leave.  

Early education with written instructions can give the patient time to read over needed details and resources on how to care for themselves at home. Teaching early and repeating it as often as necessary can help people retain key concepts. Repeating essential information throughout a longer period of time will also allow patients time to think of questions.  

Nurses play an essential role in patient discharge education. October is Health Literacy Month, a perfect time to brush up on your skills and knowledge so that you can be even more effective when teaching patients and their families about their health. By following these tips, you can ensure that your patients have the information they need to make a smooth transition from the hospital to home.