Occupational therapy works holistically to assist patients manage conditions, complete tasks with modifications, and support the ultimate goal of returning to activities that make their lives complete. But as OTs know, time with an individual patient is extremely limited and a patient’s effort between health care appointments drive overall progress.
So how can OTs set patients up for the most successful outcome? Try incorporating deliberate, impactful patient education into every appointment by utilizing 4 strategies.
Build Practitioner/Patient Relationships
The most effective OTs I have worked with are deliberate in their work to build a strong and empathic relationship with their patients. Do you actively consider the therapeutic use of self? Are you a good listener? Do you really see your patient as a person with hopes and dreams instead of the stroke patient with right side weakness? Relationship building may look effortless for some, but it takes time and effort, and the impact of that practitioner/patient relationship will extend well beyond your appointment.
Be Mindful of Health Literacy Levels
Levels of health literacy drive patient outcomes. Low health literacy impacts medication compliance, understanding the connection between lifestyle and health conditions, completing health forms accurately, finding an appropriate provider, and managing chronic conditions. By recognizing the barriers imposed by low levels of health literacy, OTs can modify their interventions and provide a path to continued improvements regardless of health literacy.
Utilize Patient Teach-Back
One powerful tool to assess a patient’s understanding of your recommendations is to utilize patient teach-back. By explaining the interventions or strategies in their own words, patients take ownership, have better recall after the OT appointment, and are better equipped to explain the intervention to family members or caregivers.
Provide Effective, Written Patient Education Materials
In my opinion, patient education materials are the most important tool you can leave for the patient. Illustrated, printed patient handouts written in simple clear terms and available in your patient’s preferred language will reinforce your recommendations between visits. Since I have been creating and sharing patient handouts for almost 25 years, I might be a little biased, but I do believe that this step is critically important. We often see patients who have just experienced a traumatic or life-changing health event, so they are not able give their full attention to provider instructions. And while I understand the value of digital materials, that format can be an absolute barrier for many patients. An immediate reinforcement of your session in their hands at the end of the appointment is most impactful.
So, remember what you leave behind for your patients really does matter! Build relationships, consider health literacy levels, strengthen understanding with patient teach-back, and provide effective, written patient materials.