Three Ways Education about Care Improves Outcomes for Patients and Emergency Departments

July 24, 2014  |  Jane Stuckey

It’s easy to forget that not all of the health benefits that we provide to patients are in the form of actual medical treatment. In fact, some of the benefits come from educating patients about their condition and treatment leading up to and following discharge.

Based on my own research and other studies of patients following discharge, patients frequently have little if any recollection of what instructions they received before they left the ED. They were either so stressed out by being in the emergency department environment, or so eager to get back to their normal lives, that they literally didn’t hear or absorb the words that were spoken to them.

We may not always be successful in educating patients before discharge, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth doing. I could fill up several pages with thoughts on this topic, but consider these three key ways education about care improves outcomes. We discuss the importance of patient education in all of our engagements.

  1. The first and most important way that education improves outcomes for patients is that it protects them from harm. Whether we’re reminding the patients about wound care instructions, fall prevention at home, or the importance of taking their medication according to instructions, we can prevent the patient from slowing down their recovery, or even hurting themselves. The discharge notes, planning and patient education processes are critical to engaging the patient and ensuring that they comply with the doctor’s orders. We stress to clinical staff that follow up calls to patients after their departure can be just as important to reinforce their understanding of their care.
  2. A second way education about care improves outcomes is that it allows the patient’s care and recovery to happen not in the ED, but in their home. If we can successfully engage the patient and/or the patient’s family in taking part in the home care, it can result in far greater well-being for all concerned. For me, a great example that comes to mind is that of infants with mild Rh incompatibility. Not long ago, these young patients were often kept in the hospital for phototherapy treatment. But with the ability to educate these children’s families about continuing the treatment in their own homes, the infants can be discharged and cared for by their families at home, improving the lives of everyone involved.
  3. Last but not least, education about care can help prevent unnecessary readmissions. If a patient is thoroughly educated about the follow-up care and about signs to look out for, it’s less likely that they will be readmitted for the same diagnosis. That helps the patient stay out of the emergency department, which is obviously good for the patient. But just as importantly, it helps the hospital meet a critical metric required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and thus avoid an avoidable reimbursement penalty.

The impact of broader education efforts

Education about care can also occur on a broader, more proactive level — an approach that can provide benefits for patients and hospitals alike. Some hospitals are looking into ways to meet needs in the community by creating spaces and programs for sharing preventive health care information. For example, one of our clients who is serving a burgeoning retiree population has launched a major education initiative that will provide preventive healthcare tips and insights to larger audiences. In the process, they hope to prevent some unnecessary ED visits, and at the same time, build community goodwill that will benefit the entire hospital network.

Others are reaching out to allied providers to provide continuing education in the home, for patients who have been discharged. “Visiting angels” programs and similar organizations can be engaged to provide follow-up information, especially for older people who live alone. Others are partnering with churches for venues in which to provide proactive education — again with the aim of improving community health in general and preventing unnecessary emergency room visits in particular.

Clearly, education can take place in many settings and for many purposes — but the bottom line is that by approaching education about patient care as a necessary part of the its mission, an ED can optimize outcomes for its patients and community.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR     Jane Stuckey RN, BSN, MS, FACHE
blog_janeDrawing upon experience as a COO in both non-profit and for-profit healthcare systems and Director of Clinical Affairs for a major insurance company, Jane recommends strategies that result in improved patient, staff, and physician satisfaction, operational efficiency, and financial strength. Read more from Jane.

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