Nursing Tips for Educating Patients on Complex Medical Conditions

 educating-patientsBy Laure Justice, Contributor

Patients need to understand and retain the medical information you share with them. However, when you're educating patients about complex medical conditions, you can't always be certain the patient understands. Receiving medical news is stressful, and medical terminology can be challenging.

Use these tips from our medical experts to help guide you through the right and wrong way to educate your patients.

Tips on Educating Patients Through Technology

According to Stephen R. Holtzman, MD and co-founder of The Holvan Group, patients don't always understand the medical conditions they have or their treatment plans. Dr. Holtzman suggests having patients take advantage of technology to help them understand the information and to reduce the time you spend repeating details.

Dr. Holtzman notes that "mobile apps and informative videos are now being used by many hospitals and healthcare organizations to educate patients on comprehension of procedures, risks, benefits, alternatives and patient aftercare."

When a patient receives medical education through a cell phone, that patient is more likely to come to medical appointments on time and prepared.

Videos that provide medical information are useful because watching the film provides the patient with some time to process the information before you try to discuss it with them.

The use of technology to aid in patient education increases patient satisfaction and helps the patient become more engaged in the treatment process.


1. Make eye contact

Eye contact is an important part of communicating with patients because it helps you gauge whether your words are being understood. When you're talking to a patient about a complex medical condition or treatment plan, Ruth Linden, Ph.D., the founder and president of Treeof Life Health Advocates in San Francisco recommends making strong eye contact with the patient. This means focusing on the patient and watching for signs of comprehension rather than focusing any of your attention on an electronic device or a computer screen.

2. Assess your patient's level of medical knowledge

Dr. Linden suggests communicating with your patient to determine their level of medical literacy. This allows you to adjust your patient education efforts so your patient can understand. Examples of this include using layman's terms to speak with patients who get confused by medical terminology and providing written material that restates the information you're sharing. Also, make sure you are speaking with the patient in their preferred language, or find someone who can assist.

RELATED: 4Ways RNs Can Improve Patient Education

3. Cater your teaching approach to each patient's learning style

Be prepared to provide learning aids to accommodate patients with different learning styles. For example, some people learn better when they hear spoken words, while others may learn better from visual cues. Dr. Linden suggests you should ideally "establish whether your patient has a preferred learning style — visual or auditory — and tailor your tools accordingly. Diagrams, pictures, lists and videos can strengthen and reinforce the information you deliver."

4. Use the teach-back technique

Using the teach-back method is one final tip offered by Dr. Linden. Here's how and why it works.

After explaining a complex medical condition to a patient, or to the family members of a patient, make certain they understand the information you've shared by having them teach it back to you.

Make sure they're putting it in their own words rather than simply repeating something you said.

If the information is repeated to you accurately, you can feel certain your words have been understood.

If the information is repeated with inaccuracies, you have the opportunity to correct the misunderstanding immediately.

When you include some advanced learning techniques like the teach-back method when educating patients about complicated medical conditions, it helps your patients understand. This helps each patient become an active participant in their own health care.

Learn More: WhyGet A Nurse Certification? 5 Benefits Of Nurse Certification

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