Ways to effectively educate all patients

Develop processes and support systems

In the treatment chapter of "Advancing Effective Communication, Cultural Competence, and Patient-and Family-Centered Care: A Roadmap for Hospitals," issued by The Joint Commission, hospitals are told that patient education materials should be written at a 5th grade or lower reading level.

According to Amy Wilson-Stronks, MPP, the project director on health disparities in the Division of Quality Measurement and Research at The Joint Commission, based in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, this is a goal, not an expectation.

"We were trying to identify the reading level [from] which the majority of the population would be able to obtain meaningful information," she explains.

However, a surveyor for The Joint Commission is not going to put patient education materials through some sort of scan to make sure they are written at a 5th grade level, according to Wilson-Stronks. What they will do is ask organizations what has been done to ensure patient education materials are understood by patients.

It is important to have a solid process in place that shows an organization is working to develop quality materials. For example, patient education managers might have a committee of patients and family members set up to review materials for readability and understanding.

Also, surveyors will ask those who provide education what they do to make sure patients understand what was taught.

If surveyors find educators have assessed understanding through teach back, or some other assessment method, and documented understanding, it would show the intent of the standard is being met.

"The main point about doing anything, whether translating a document or making sure it is written at an understandable reading level, is for the purpose of patient understanding and the ability of educating the patient," says Wilson-Stronks.

Another area pertaining to patient education is the use of interpreters when teaching. Wilson-Stronks said she has been asked at what points of care an interpreter should be present. For example, would an interpreter need to be present every time medication is administered or at every dressing change?

To determine if an interpreter needs to be present, ask yourself if there is anything that needs to be communicated to the patient, advises Wilson-Stronks.

Frequently, education is taking place during medication administration, and also patients may be educated about changing their dressing during this process. To comply with the standards, an interpreter may be present during the first dressing change, and then a communication board in a patient's language might be used to reinforce teaching during subsequent dressing changes.

What is important is that the system supports be in place to support the education process.