African-American professional counseling a patient

Step-by-Step Guide to Patient Education & Counseling

Learn the procedures and methods involved with patient education and counseling.

African-American professional counseling a patient

In the healthcare universe, nurses usually have the most interaction with patients. They are often the point of contact between the hospital/medical team and the patient. As such, they have a crucial role in patient education and counseling.

This is much more than “How are you feeling today, Mr. Smith?” Nurses need to keep patients updated on the progress of their treatment. In addition, they need to help patients understand their requirements from their side of the relationship. This could be as simple as providing dietary suggestions or as complex as instructions on keeping a breathing tube clean at home.

While it may seem second nature, training future nurses in patient education and counseling is an essential part of the nursing curriculum. As such, let’s get into some of the details of this area of the nurse’s care.

(Click here to learn more about what nurses do).

What’s the Definition of Patient Education and Counseling?

Patient education and counseling are just as it sounds. The nurse informs and educates the patient and often the patient’s family in various areas. Best practices could be how to create a consistent medication schedule or how to keep an incision clean. The nurse can provide guidance in areas of preventative medicine, such as dietary suggestions to help alleviate problems with a chronic condition.

There aren’t any set criteria here; every patient’s situation is different. But the nurse plays a crucial role in helping educate the patient on how best to return to good health.

What’s the Purpose of Patient Education and Counseling?

The education and counseling provided by a nurse plays a vital role in the patient returning to optimal health. This isn’t a time for “grey areas” in a patient’s understanding of their condition and the actions they need to take to improve it. The nurse is typically the provider of this information.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, patient education plays a key role in these areas:

Well-informed patients…

  • Are less likely to visit an emergency room
  • Are less frequently in the hospital
  • Are more likely to follow their treatment plans properly
  • Have lower mortality rates

How Long Does It Take to Educate a Patient?

These aren’t long, detailed sessions — most information passed along to the patient takes just 10-15 minutes. Information is best delivered in small packets of content, making it easier for the patient to incorporate. Of course, this varies with every patient and with the extent of the medical condition or the procedure involved. If a nurse needs to educate the patient’s family in the situation, more time is usually necessary.

Who Provides Patient Education and Counseling?

As mentioned above, this is an integral part of the nurse’s job. Patient education is vital for promoting positive patient outcomes. This is a part of all nursing positions, no matter the specialization or level of education.

What Training Is Needed for Patient Education?

All nursing education includes patient education and counseling. First, the nurse learns a technique, such as how a patient will inject their own insulin. Equally important is learning how to then educate the patient on the procedure.

Throughout the training, the nursing candidate learns how the patient will need to be educated or counseled to aid in the recovery process or to improve their health over the long run.

Patient education is covered on the NCLEX exam in topics such as “Health Promotion and Maintenance” and “Safety and Infection Control.”

(Check out this study guide on how to pass the NCLEX-RN exam.)

Close up of a psychologist conducting a session

What is the Procedure for Patient Counseling?

Patient education is vital for promoting faster recovery after surgery, injury, or other treatment. It’s also a key to reducing the need for future healthcare services through prevention.

Patient education is a learned skill, but adapting your information to the patient is key. Different patients respond to information in different ways. Here are some keys to consider:

  • Don’t use medical terminology — It can be easy to slip into medical terminology because you’re accustomed to speaking in these terms with other healthcare providers. But that’s not the way to communicate with a patient. Avoid using medical terminology and abbreviations. Instead, provide information in small amounts, enabling the patient to better understand and retain it.
  • Start from day one — Your counseling and education must begin when the patient is admitted or first encountered. This breaks down any initial barriers. The flow of information continues through discharge.
  • Provide educational paperwork in the patient’s native language — While a patient may be literate in English or another language, that doesn’t mean their “health literacy” is at the same level. Be sure to provide the patient with education paperwork in their language of choice.
  • Consider other communication barriers — Language isn’t the only potential barrier. If patients have sight, hearing, or cognitive impairments, you’ll need to adjust the presentation of the needed information. For instance, a patient with hearing impairment can learn a method needed (such as changing a wound dressing) through visual instruction.
  • Use the teach-back method — An effective way to be sure a patient has gleaned the necessary information is to have them recite it back to you. This is known as the “teach-back” method. After you detail a short area of information, have the patient repeat it back to you in their own words. For instance, after describing how blood pressure medication works for a patient, have the patient describe it back to you. What is high blood pressure, and how does the medication work with the body to lower it? Be sure the patient doesn’t feel talked down to; make sure they understand that you want to ensure they understand the information you’re providing and that this understanding is in their best interest.
  • Anything of importance needs to be written down — If certain instructions or information is crucial for patient health, be sure it is provided in written form. This ensures there are no lapses in what the patient remembers. Also, be sure to provide contact phone numbers if there are any future questions or problems.
  • Provide continuous education — When a patient is sick or needs care, they don’t usually anticipate making life changes. They may not be aware of how behaviors such as smoking contribute to their health problems. They may even be adamant about not wanting to change their lives. The solution here is continuing information and education. Your information will need to move the patient to what is known as the “contemplative stage.” In this stage, patients become aware that the problem exists and begin to think they can overcome the issue. Now, they are open to information. This allows continuous counseling to help the patient follow a healthier path.

What Factors Need to Be Considered When Deciding How to Educate a Patient?

Every patient responds to the information you provide differently. As you become more comfortable in your nurse position, you’ll get better at gauging the best methods for counseling patients. Different methods will be necessary for different patients.

These are areas to assess when considering the best methods for presenting the necessary information:

  • What is the patient’s level of literacy?
  • Is the patient able to read and comprehend written directions?
  • What is the best method for providing information (visual, audio, tactile, etc.)?
  • What is the most comfortable language for the patient?
  • Does the patient respond to more than basic information, or are they resistant?
  • How well does the patient see and hear?

Tips in wood block letters next to a lightbulb

What Are Some Tips for Mastering the Art of Patient Counseling and Education?

As with any sort of communication, the key to being effective when counseling and educating patients is to understand the individual. Different patients have different methods of learning and responding to the information you provide. But it’s crucial, no matter those differences, that you can pass along the information and it is fully understood. This is key to better health moving forward.

Here are a few tips for becoming a master of patient counseling and education:

  • Teaching isn’t a one-time event that occurs only at discharge.
  • You have a learning opportunity every time you enter a patient’s room. This creates long-term retention of the necessary information.
  • Use teach-back, tell-back methods. After detailing the information or demonstrating a technique, have the patient describe it back to you. Or the patient can describe it to a family member, if preferred, and you can then ask the family member about the details provided.
  • Don’t ask “Do you understand?” and be satisfied. The patient can answer “Yes” or “No” and you won’t have insight into their level of understanding. Be sure the patient has internalized the information necessary.
  • Work to engage the patient’s interest in the information you’re providing. Static detailing of information won’t be highly retained. It’s best if you can get the patient to relate personally to the information and how it benefits them down the road. The best sign of patient engagement is when they ask pertinent questions about the information you’re providing.
  • At various points in the patient’s care, be sure to check their level of information. This is the time to correct any misconceptions or misinformation. You can then provide the correct information and work to have it replace the incorrect areas.

Why Should Nurses Develop Their Communication Skills for Patient Education?

If the medical team (usually the nurses) can’t effectively communicate to the patient what is needed, it’s likely the patient will head home and fall back into their unhealthy habits or ignore the management of their medical condition. This can lead to relapse and a return to the hospital. These are areas where your counseling and education are important:

  • Self-care steps the patient needs to adopt
  • Why it’s important that they perform these steps and how it can impact their health.
  • What warning signs the patient needs to be on alert for
  • The steps to take if a problem arises
  • Who the patient should contact if they have questions

Are You Ready to Make the Move Into a Nursing Career?

Communicating with patients and helping them make adjustments or improvements in their health is an important and rewarding part of every nurse’s daily work. Of course, explaining something such as infection prevention or how to change a colostomy bag is crucial information to pass along. But there’s much more to this flow of information, and it’s an important part of healthcare delivery.

Are you interested in a career change? Brookline College has multiple Nursing Programs to help you make a move into nursing. From accelerated programs to various tuition assistance options, we want to help talented people like you become nurses.

Happy young woman speaking with a counselor