Enhanced Provider-Patient Communication Improves Discharge Process


Laura Vento, MSN, RN, first took an interest in the teach-back process when her father had a liver transplant. Following a prolonged hospitalization, Vento’s dad was sent home with little understanding of how to take care of himself; most notably, he had no wound-care education. And when she reviewed his medications, Vento found serious discrepancies with his anti-rejection drug prescriptions.

Her mind was filled with questions: “What kind of transition of care was this? How well am I as a nurse preparing my patients for discharge?” says Vento, a clinical nurse leader on an acute-care medical unit at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) Medical Center. “I have since learned that shocking numbers of [hospitalized] patients receive little or no education about how to care for themselves.”

About the same time as her dad’s recovery, Vento’s nurse manager heard about SHM’s Project BOOST. They applied for a grant to support training hospital staff in the teach-back system, an integral Project BOOST strategy for educating patients about their post-discharge care needs.

At UCSD, teach-back was incorporated into a larger process of improving care transitions and preventing avoidable readmissions. In addition to the new communication techniques, the process also includes risk assessment, post-discharge follow-up phone calls, and other strategies, supported by a hospitalwide, multidisciplinary education council.

Following a four-hour teach-back curriculum presented to nursing staff, “we did role modeling and role plays,” Vento says. “We followed up with a teach-back coach, me, going to patients’ bedsides with the nurses, because the workshop content alone was not enough without the patient interaction. We needed to verify the nurses’ competency.”

From its initial piloting on two units, teach-back is being hard-wired into UCSD’s electronic health record, with guides to ask for five basic teach-back checks: reason for admission, self-care needs, when to call a physician or 9ll, scheduled follow-up appointments, and changes to the medication list. The education council is now rolling out teach-back to nurses across the system. For her efforts in disseminating the strategy the past two years, Vento was named the UCSD health system’s Nurse of the Year for 2011.

And yet, despite this systemwide recognition, “the focus up to this point has mostly been on the nurses, who are responsible for the bulk of patient education,” says UCSD hospitalist and Project BOOST mentor Jennifer Quartarolo, MD, SFHM. “It’s probably been underutilized by other members of the care team.”

Despite competing demands on physicians’ time, Dr. Quartarolo says hospitalists need to improve their patient education skills. “Teach-back can help us effectively communicate the key teaching points that we’d like our hospitalized patients and their caregivers to take home with them,” she says.

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