Opinion

'Effective patient education is an art'

Michael Mawhinney discusses why you need to recognise patients as experts too
Patient education

Michael Mawhinney discusses why you need to recognise patients as experts too

At the All Together Better Health conference on interprofessional practice and education held earlier this year, I was struck by a presentation on the care of terminally ill children. The speaker referred to health professionals interactions with parents as conversations between experts health professionals are experts in healthcare delivery, parents are experts in managing their children.

The expert patients programme is a well-known intervention for patients with long-term conditions (Wilson et al 2007), but I had not considered viewing my patients as experts while receiving anti-cancer treatments.

As a nurse administering anti-cancer treatments for more than 6 years, I have developed the skills I first learned in delivering patient education into a well-rehearsed and thorough agenda. But this does not

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Michael Mawhinney discusses why you need to recognise patients as experts too

At the All Together Better Health conference on interprofessional practice and education held earlier this year, I was struck by a presentation on the care of terminally ill children. The speaker referred to health professionals’ interactions with parents as conversations between experts – health professionals are experts in healthcare delivery, parents are experts in managing their children.

Nicola James
Patient education is a conversation between experts. Picture: John Houlihan

The expert patients programme is a well-known intervention for patients with long-term conditions (Wilson et al 2007), but I had not considered viewing my patients as experts while receiving anti-cancer treatments. 

As a nurse administering anti-cancer treatments for more than 6 years, I have developed the skills I first learned in delivering patient education into a well-rehearsed and thorough agenda. But this does not view patients as experts: in their lives, bodies and daily routines. 

Thorough pre-chemotherapy patient education has a positive effect on treatment experience (Hartigan 2003). By educating patients about chemotherapy, expected side effects and management of adverse events, treatment may be less stressful, side effects reduced and improved quality of life achieved (Williams and Schreier 2004).

Effective patient education is based on communication, on answering individuals’ enquiries while respecting their learning approaches (Price 2015). Patients receiving chemotherapy should have open communication with health professionals, being able to ask questions at every point not just before and after education (Valenti 2014). 

Overwhelming medications

Many treatments, particularly those taken orally, have complicated administration. Some need to be taken with a meal, some an hour before and some an hour after. With such complexity and the majority of patients taking multiple medications, it is easy for patients to become overwhelmed and may lead to adherence difficulties (Given et al 2011).

By recognising patients as experts in their own lives, I can tailor education to acknowledge and fit in with their daily activities, leading to empowerment, clearer routines, promoting adherence if taking oral treatments and, ultimately, improving treatment outcomes. For example, why advise patients to take their morning medication at 8am when they’ve been awake since 5am and have breakfast at 6am?

Nursing is often referred to as a science, but it can be easy to forget it is an art as well. The art of recognising psychosocial distress, the art of emotional and spiritual support, and the art of explaining complex treatments and interventions. Effective patient education is an art.

Acknowledging it as a conversation between experts in cancer care and experts in life, rather than health professionals and patients, is crucial to providing high quality care.


References

  • Given B, Spoelstra S, Grant M (2011) The challenges of oral agents as antineoplastic treatments. Seminars in Oncology Nursing. 27, 2, 93-103.
  • Hartigan K (2003) Patient education: the cornerstone of successful oral chemotherapy treatment. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. 7, 6 Suppl, 21-24.
  • Price N (2015) Helping patients to learn about self-management. Nursing Standard. 30, 2, 51-57.
  • Valenti R (2014) Chemotherapy education for patients with cancer: a literature review. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. 18, 6, 637-640.
  • Williams S, Schreier A (2004) The effect of education in managing side effects in women receiving chemotherapy for treatment of breast cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum. 31, 1, E16-E23.
  • Wilson P, Kendall S, Brooks F (2007) The Expert Patients Programme: a paradox of patient empowerment and medical dominance. Health & Social Care in the Community. 15, 5, 426-438.

About the author

Michael MawhinneyMichael Mawhinney is Clinical research nurse/doctoral researcher at Oxford Brookes University

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