Career Development

Educating Patients: Definition, Benefits and Types

June 3, 2021

Patient education is one of the most important ways to ensure people can make informed decisions about their health. Medical professionals have a responsibility to share preventative and responsive information with patients and interpret medical results for individuals. Knowing who educates patients and how they do this can help healthcare facilities and professionals educate their patients. In this article, we examine the definition of patient education, look at which professionals administer it, how to effectively inform patients and why patient education is important.

What does educating patients mean?

Educating patients refers to situations in which healthcare professionals provide relevant information to those in their care. This information might influence the patient's medical decisions, life choices or general behavior. As trained medical professionals analyze data, trends and medical information, it is their responsibility to translate that knowledge into something a patient can understand. Patients themselves may decide on their treatment or wellness plans based on the education they receive, so educating patients can positively influence a person's next steps.

Related: Why Work in Health Care? 8 Reasons To Consider a Career in Health Care

Benefits of educating patients

Here are a few of the reasons why it's beneficial to educate patients:

Patients can make informed decisions

A patient can only make an informed decision if their healthcare professionals provide them with all the relevant information they may require. This can include information about treatment options, additional opinions and tests, medication, lifestyle effects and prognoses. Professionals like nurses and doctors often have their own recommendations, though it's often the patient's decision how they might proceed. For example, a doctor might provide information to a patient who may then need to choose between two treatment paths, and the doctor may help the patient compare the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Educators use multiple sources to provide options

Sometimes, there can be several methods that can successfully treat conditions. Healthcare professionals who consult multiple reliable sources can help provide patients with alternative paths to treat a condition or maintain wellness. Similarly, different medical professionals might have access to different information. If a nurse refers a patient to a specialist, the specialist might have more specific information on treatment options, causes and side effects.

Preventative care education can lower health risks

Health educators may provide informational resources to encourage preventative care. This might include tips for a healthy diet, recommended exercise or age-related recommendations like vitamins. During patient treatment or rehabilitation, education can minimize future risk of additional conditions. Similarly, ongoing efforts like community education efforts can target specific practices that can help people stay healthy and avoid certain conditions. Providing patients with information on how they can prevent certain common diseases can increase their health and may limit future health issues such as diabetes or heart disease.

Related: Healthcare Skills: Definition and Examples

Educated patients can help maintain data

Health professionals maintain patient records, research, medical history and several other medical documentation and data to do their jobs well. A key component of patient education is ensuring the patients have access to their health information. This encourages nurses and doctors to manage and update their data regularly. With any updates, professionals might identify gaps in medical records and ensure their patients receive the care they might need.

Related: What Is Health Information Management?

Patient education can lower readmittance rates

Effective patient education may reduce the number of times a patient needs to return to certain facilities. Educating patients on how to read and interpret their data can provide patients with opportunities to measure their progress at home. If patients have access to and can understand their records, they may be more likely to follow necessary treatment plans. This can help hospitals and other facilities maintain their capacity limits so they can treat patients in need with the resources they have.

Who is responsible for educating patients?

Patient education is a shared responsibility across multiple health professions. These are a few professionals responsible for educating patients:

  • Doctors: Primary care physicians might see patients annually for checkups or if patients are ill or in pain. It's important that they educate their patients on illness causes, treatment options and preventative care.

  • Nurses: Nurses in settings like hospitals might educate their patients on certain protocol and equipment. Beyond this, involving and educating patients in a nurse's care can help prepare them to treat and maintain their health once they leave a facility.

  • Specialists: Specialists in certain areas such as the heart or brain might provide highly targeted education to their patients. This can be information such as what foods to eat or avoid, how to manage stress and activities a patient might consider as part of their treatment.

  • Educators: Professional health educators might host educational forums, classes or workshops for the public or for targeted patients on specific topics. For example, there may be group resources available for patients living with certain medical conditions.

Related: What Is a Health Educator? A Complete Guide

Ways to educate patients:

Depending on the goal of the education, doctors or nurses might choose to educate patient in one or more of the following ways:

Software

Educational software programs allow patients to interact with a website or app as they learn. This can include interactive exercises, online guidebooks or other educational materials that can a patient can use in facilities or on their own. Often, computer-aided educational resources might have a quiz at the end to test the patient's knowledge.

Videos

Video resources have a unique interactive component for visual learners. With videos, actors might demonstrate how to use equipment or discuss best practices for preventative care. Educators might consider providing written transcripts or video descriptions for some patients.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations show how certain tasks or procedures work. Nurses may administer one-on-one demonstrations with patients to show them how certain equipment might work or how to read certain data points. For example, if a patient receives new equipment to monitor their blood pressure, the nurse might perform the actions on themselves first.

Written materials

Written educational materials can provide patients with step-by-step information on how to perform certain tasks, like take medication. Written materials can also include drawings and diagrams that may be helpful to patients.

Admission and discharge lists

Medical professionals may provide patients with educational materials upon admission or discharge to a facility. Admission guidelines can include the standard procedures, expectations and any patient-specific information that may reflect certain conditions. Discharge materials and prescriptions may include doctors with whom the patient should follow up and prescriptions that the patient should bring to a pharmacy.

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