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4 things to consider when designing a patient education program

January 17, 2017

    Medication adherence is integral to patient health outcomes, yet research reveals that more than 60% of patients misunderstood the instructions for properly taking their prescriptions immediately after their doctor's visit. Along with increased patient health risks, the health care industry incurs between $100 and $300 billion in avoidable health care costs due medication non-adherence, comprised of both avoidable hospitalizations and the additional care necessary to control disease progression.

    Patient education programs are a critical step for empowering patients to take an active role in their health and wellness by taking their medications correctly. When designing a patient education program, health care leaders should consider four key questions.

    Who should take the lead on patient education?

    Clinicians are responsible for teaching patients about their medications and treatment plan. To ensure that patients are receiving the information they need, there must be clear assignment of responsibility.

    Traditionally, nurses have been responsible for the majority of patient education. However, in many cases, high-risk patients (i.e., patients with complex or serious disease, polypharmacy patients, patients at high risk for readmissions, and/or patients with limited support at home) may also benefit from an education session with a pharmacist or other clinician with more specialized knowledge.

    When is the best time for education sessions?

    Stress interferes with patients' abilities to learn and retain information. It is important to schedule education sessions that coincide with periods of lower anxiety when the patient is alert and able to focus on learning.

    Some organizations have found that educating patients the day before discharge or even providing short education sessions over multiple days is more effective than education at discharge, when the patient may already be overwhelmed with discharge preparations.

    Ideally, the patient's caregivers would also be present to learn alongside the patient and act as a "second set of ears."

    What's the best approach to education?

    Different patients have different learning styles and communication preferences. The challenge for health systems is determining how to accommodate these varied needs efficiently.

    While the majority of patient education has traditionally been provided one-on-one by clinicians and through written materials, health systems are increasingly experimenting with other teaching tools including: online learning modules, group visits, audio recordings, and videos.

    In addition, the teach-back method is a well-established best practice for ensuring patients understand the information they have been presented. Motivational interviewing techniques may also help patients change behavior or establish new habits.

    How often should patients receive instructions?

    Repetition of key messages is critical. In most cases, patients and caregivers benefit from hearing the same message multiple times from multiple people and through multiple channels.

    After having the opportunity to reflect on what they learned, patients and caregivers often have additional questions. Consequently, health systems may want to schedule post-discharge events (e.g., follow-up visits, online learning modules embedded in the patient portal, phone calls from a nurse or pharmacist) that provide additional education.

    In addition, patients and caregivers should know how to contact their care team with questions, and the care team should have the capacity to respond to questions in a timely way.

    Stay tuned to the Pharmacy Executive Forum for more information about how to improve the patient experience related to medication education and use.

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