PRINT This Page 
RETURN To Article 

Tips to improve patient and family education

Patient and family education is one of those problematic standards and requirements for improvement that boggles the mind of many hospital survey coordinators.

In the course of patient care, every patient/family interaction is an opportunity to educate, says Jodi Eisenberg, MHA, CPMSM, CPHQ, CSHA, program manager of accreditation and clinical compliance at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

The primary objective of patient education is to help patients and families understand their rights and responsibilities in their care, treatment, and services. Patients receive education and training specific to their needs and appropriate to the care, treatment, and services provided.

Eisenberg suggests incorporate patient teaching into your hands-on care. Some examples of organizational initiatives include:

  • "New" medication (first dose) monitoring (engage the patient in the process)

  • Medication administration and reconciliation (this is a great opportunity for patient teaching)

  • Advance directives (referrals to chaplains, social work or patient representative department)

  • Infection control/hand hygiene (share key points with patients as you take these actions)

Accreditation coordinators do not have to be an expert on every topic to begin teaching, says Eisenberg. Instead:

  • Ask the patient to review information and ask or write down questions. Go over the questions with the patient; answer what you know and defer other questions to clinical experts as appropriate.

  • For select topics, use teaching guides to help guide you.

  • Refer complex questions to clinical experts (e.g., advanced practice nurses and physicians)

Eisenberg recommends teaching topics by focusing on "need to know" instead of "nice to know" topics. Identify family members or significant others to involve in patient teaching.

The goal of discharge instructions is to provide the needed information to patients, family members, or significant others so that patients will be safe and comply with the recommended medical regimen until they reach the next level of care (e.g., clinic visit). Focus on:

  • Actions patients need to take (e.g., medicines, activities, diet, and appointments)

  • Who to call with questions

  • Signs and symptoms to report to physician or when to seek immediate medical treatment

  • Know your resources


  • Patient education

  • Communication aids, such as interpreter services and language line

Know your patient and make a difference. To comply with the latter:

  • During hand-offs between departments/levels of care/change of shift report, share outstanding patient education requirements

  • Include important patient education components while developing competencies, policies, and procedures

While patient education is happening, remind staff to take credit for their teaching by:

  • Documenting each patient education interaction

  • Reviewing education provided daily and providing follow-up teaching as needed