As therapists practice, they begin to realize that one of the most important skills that you can acquire as a therapist is effective patient communication. Without this vital skill, it does not matter how good your manual therapy, exercise program, or equipment is. While there are different ways that therapists use to educate their patients, there are some effective methods and techniques.
Reading level with written materials are a vitally important topic when discussing health literacy and patient education. Oftentimes, therapist will write patient materials and instruction at a level that is above their reading level. It is often recommended that therapist write patient instructions at 3rd or 4th grade U.S. reading level. This is to ensure adherence of patient instructions and home exercise programs. It is also important to pay attention to elderly patients when providing instructions.
Some elderly patients can have difficulty with vision loss and would benefit from large fonts. In addition, utilizing visual aides can help patients of all ages and abilities adhere and follow the instructions from the therapist. It is important that therapists and healthcare providers are careful about using too much technology when treating or educating elderly patients. Elderly patients are not digital natives, therefore, their skills with tablet, app, or phone technology can be limited. It would behoove the therapist to ask the patient various proficiency levels with educational materials and technologies. While age and reading level are appropriate variables to pay attention to, cultural competence is another important factor.
With serving immigrant populations, it is important that the therapist have all education materials written in that individuals primary language. This can include various software programs that help to translate text material, or the original materials and instructions can be written in their primary languages. In addition, it would be important to have family or friends nearby when instructing the patient on any part of their plan or care. If a friend or family member is not available, it is important that therapists have interpreter services available to them to effectively communicate with their patients and associated family members. Interpreter services can be provided by outside companies, or they can be provided internally by the company that the therapist works for.
While considering age, socio-economic status, and cultural background, there are some key points to remember with all patients. Keep the home exercise programs brief and essential. Studies show that extensive instructions rarely get followed. Be sure to develop a plan of care with the patient as a participate, as this gives them a “buy in” to what you are trying to accomplish with therapy. Finally, be sure to set realistic goals for 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year out from the injury, incident, or surgery.
Effective patient education can mean the difference between a positive or a negative patient outcome. Furthermore, it can help providers and therapists avoid a negative patient outcome such as not following instructions post surgery, or for medication interventions, or general plan or care and discharge dispositions. Patient education is the cornerstone on which you build on effective therapy practice.