Teach Back Programs & EMR’s – Inadvertent Solutions for Patient Education

By all measures we (healthcare industry) have failed miserably in our efforts to educate our patients effectively. For the most part these efforts have consisted of talking to patients and giving them paper handouts. One study showed 78% of patients leave the ER not understanding their discharge instructions. That is a 22% “success” rate – a failing grade in any institution! Of course this lack of patient understanding is directly related to the very expensive “problem” of 19% of patients getting readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge for the same problem. Interestingly, a real “solution” to improve patient education may result from two alternately directed efforts.

Many institutions are jumping on the band wagon of improving their staff with new programs that train them in “teach back” methods. There are many programs out there, educating care providers about how to make sure their patients understand what they are saying. The programs and the organizational costs to purchase and then use them represent huge expenditures. The effort is commendable but there are significant short comings including frequent staff member turnover and huge differences in staff abilities and implementation.

Somewhat concurrent with these efforts we have seen billions of dollars (and man hours) poured into electronic medical records. These were touted as nearly a panacea to improving patient care. Organizations and providers are literally forced to participate and EMR companies have reaped huge profits from this federal government push. Of course now we are also seeing the limitations of EMR’s. Most fundamentally is the simple fact (disaster) that two facilities in the same town have different EMR’s and they can’t “talk” to each other.

What’s interesting with these two “efforts” (and in my opinion their shortcomings) is that they have provided – but in most cases not recognized – how they could really provide a solution for improving healthcare. The “teach back” programs may fall short of improving patient education but their real value is in “putting” patient education to the forefront of health care. And while the maze of color coded screens and endless mouse clicks of EMR’s are “interesting”. Their real value is putting “hardware” into the hands of caregivers. Caregivers finally have a means to truly educate patients beyond the failure of simply talking to them or handing them paper.

Healthcare providers, putting patient education as a priority and outfitted with EMR hardware that can double to show images and videos to patients can now effectively and consistently educate patients. When healthcare providers arm themselves with educational images and videos their patient education suddenly happens faster but is also much better. Images can reduce the time to explain things by almost 40% while actually increasing patient learning by as much as 400%. Videos are 180% more engaging for patients. That’s in part why there are 4 billion Youtube views per day! And videos can provide a consistent and complete message that could otherwise “vary” between staff members.

The power of patient education and engagement is so great that it was touted as “the block buster drug of the century”. It is time that all healthcare providers become excellent patient educators – not with teach back programs or EMR’s but with REAL educational tools like images and videos.