Patient education involves helping patients become better informed about their condition, medical procedures, and choices they have regarding treatment. Nurses typically have opportunities to educate patients during bedside conversations or by providing prepared pamphlets or handouts. Patient education is important to enable individuals to better care for themselves and make informed decisions regarding medical care.
Patients acquire information about their condition in a variety of ways: by discussing their condition with health professionals; by reading written materials or watching films made available in hospitals or doctors' offices; through specific health care organizations, such as the American Cancer Association; and through drug advertisements on television and in popular magazines. With the explosion of information on the World Wide Web, patients can access a wide range of medical information, from professional medical journals to on-line support and chat groups with a health focus.
Being informed about one's health care options is essential to a patient's health and well-being. Especially with the increase in managed care, in which economics and efficiency is sometimes paramount, patients may be able to obtain better health care if they are knowledgeable and assertive about their needs and wishes. Informed patients may benefit, for example, by realizing they have a choice of different medications, different treatments, or what lifestyle patterns may affect their condition.
Professional health care givers have traditionally borne the responsibility for patient education. In recent years, however, patients independently have easy access to a wide range of health information. However, many patients cannot easily obtain information, especially if they are not well educated or are not fluent in English. In addition, many patients may not understand enough about their condition to ask relevant questions. Finally, a significant amount of popular information is inaccurate or publicized for a profit motive rather then for education purposes. Patients may not be able to sort out what is true or what is relevant to their own condition.
Another relatively recent aspect of patient education centers around legal ramifications. When a patient is fully informed about the risks and benefits of a particular procedure or therapeutic approach, the likelihood of a lawsuit resulting from a complication is sharply reduced. A patient must be made aware of risks before accepting treatment.
Nurses play an important role in providing health education. They are often the best sources of information regarding caring for patients, such as learning to breast feed, soothing fussy babies, or staying comfortable in the hospital. They may be more accessible than doctors, both because they may spend more time with patients, and because patients may feel less intimidated by nurses and more comfortable asking questions and sharing fears. It is important that nurses do not provide information they are unsure about, or falsely reassure patients about their condition.
Rubsamen, David S. "Calibrate Informed Consent to Suit Patient's Need." Physicians Financial News.
Wofford, James L., M.D., M.S., Dorothy Currin, M.P.H., Robert Michielutte, Ph.D., and Marcia M. Wofford, M.D. The Multi-Media Computer for Low-Literacy Patient Education: A Pilot Project of Cancer Risk Perceptions.
Jacqueline N. Martin, M.S.