Effective Patient Education: 6 Best Practices for Nurses

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Close-up of a nurse practitioner wrapping a patient’s hand.

An effective and structured patient education strategy facilitates compliance with state and federal wellness initiatives. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) oversees several incentive-driven programs designed to encourage more efficient health care and reduce health care costs, such as the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) and the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) Program. In this environment, where provider compensation and cost-efficiency can rest on community wellness, patients must understand their care plans.

Organizations face a challenge in educating patients with varied cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Additionally, the challenges of medical illiteracy and the proliferation of online health misinformation make effective patient education a top priority. Nurses interested in developing strategies to educate patients can benefit from earning an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing.

Strategies for Patient Education

The goal of patient education involves improving the health literacy of patients. This can lead to more effective, efficient care that ultimately benefits the patient and the provider. Achieving this goal can be a critical step in minimizing unnecessary health care spending, which is a serious issue facing the industry. A 2019 report from the JAMA network indicates that the U.S. health care system generates an estimated economic waste of between $760 billion and $935 billion from 2012 to 2019, accounting for roughly 25% of total health care spending.

Developing an effective patient education plan requires a strategy that is comprehensive yet easy to implement and follow. It must utilize effective tools and resources, as well as allow a health care professional the flexibility to adjust educational needs to match the health literacy needs of the patient. Providers must also carry out the strategy in a way that delivers results in several different components of care, such as medication use, post-treatment care, and proactive wellness strategies.

Using the following six practices, nurses and other health care professionals can establish a foundation for effective patient education.

Practice 1: Teaching the Teachers

Quality health care education starts with skilled teachers. As such, provider organizations typically employ experienced, graduate nursing professionals to manage patient education programs and oversee training for staff members and consumers, according to research gathered by media outlet Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare.

Patient education training starts with the onboarding process, where new hires participate in simulated training exercises to gain familiarity with standard educator practices and medicine as a whole. During the simulations, new hires observe experienced staff educate clients from diverse backgrounds. New hires learn the latest best practices in patient education, as well as the organization’s current objectives. They also learn how to use available resources effectively while educating consumers who may have difficulty grasping all the necessary health care information.

Practice 2: Teaching the Patients

Staff members require sufficient resources to maximize the quality and uniformity of patient education. Therefore, care provider organizations train enough staff members to educate patients effectively and successfully. Organizations also regularly incorporate the latest medical best practices to compete in the new risk-bearing caregiving setting. This information resides in the organizational database used by all staff members, ensuring patient education effectiveness.

Practice 3: Standardizing the Teaching Process

Standardization prevents information fragmentation and teaching gaps. As such, care provider organizations establish predefined patient education processes and clinician guidelines. Care providers define the processes in meetings where team members determine what information is important for patients and family members. After identifying this information, care providers incorporate the teaching points into the organization’s electronic health records workflow, which guides caregivers in educating patients using medical best practices and proven teaching techniques.

Currently, the teach-back method is a best practice among patient educators. Using the technique, nurses listen to patients recite instructions or watch them perform procedures while ensuring that the clients fully comprehend care plans.

Practice 4: Technology Incorporation

Health care organizations that have solid frameworks for patient education technology regularly publish, in several formats, evidence-based content that offers information for quick access by patients, physicians, and nurses in digital and printed forms. Organizations also make this information available for a variety of devices, such as tablets, laptops, and mobile phones.

Health care providers sometimes source content from third-party vendors, such as Wolters Clinical Drug Information. This firm offers current medical information translated into more than 20 languages.

Practice 5: Resource Management

It is critical that patients understand printed information. Providers use material written as simply as possible — on a fifth- to seventh-grade comprehension level. Care providers also customize content for various patient age groups or disabilities. Because today’s best practices are always being updated, providers use flexible information repositories to simplify the monitoring of content relevance and management.

Practice 6: Personalized Instruction

Nurses must assess each client as an individual, which is sometimes a challenge for caregivers who have treated the same conditions frequently. This process traditionally begins, according to research by Healthcare Global, with evaluating the client’s learning ability and specific medical needs, which is sometimes problematic when a suffering patient may not be able to focus clearly.

If a patient has difficulty understanding English, they may not readily admit this. If necessary, care providers should arrange for an interpreter to make sure the patient and their family members understand all information completely.

Develop the Skills for Effective Patient Education

Nurses play a crucial role in building and managing teams that can deliver quality patient care. A nurse’s ability to educate patients can have a direct impact on the patient-provider dynamic, leading to positive results.

Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program can help you gain the tools needed to build these teams through effective strategies. Our fully online program is specially built to meet the needs of practicing RNs like you: hard-working professionals with the drive to advance their expertise. The robust MSN curriculum integrates advanced nursing theory with evidence-based nursing practice, allowing you to immediately apply new skills in the field. Learn how we can help you take the next step in your career.

Recommended Readings

Nurse Burnout Prevention Strategies for Nurse Leaders

Nurse Educator Resources

6 Reasons to Be a Nurse Practitioner


Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP)

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, The Hospital Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) Program

Healthcare, “5 Tips to Help Nurses Improve Patient Education Skills”

International Journal of Environmental Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “COVID-19 Misinformation Online and Health Literacy: A Brief Overview”

JAMA Network, “Waste in the U.S. Health Care System, Estimated Costs and Potential for Savings”

Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare, “Better Patient Education for Improved Engagement and Compliance”