Health Education Today
The changes in today’s health care environment mandate the use of an organized approach to health education so that patients can meet their specific health care needs. Significant factors for the nurse to consider when planning patient education include the availability of health care outside the conventional hospital set-ting, the employment of diverse health care providers to accom-plish care management goals, and the increased use of alternative strategies rather than traditional approaches to care. The careful consideration of these factors can provide patients with the com-prehensive information that is essential for making informed decisions about health care. Demands from consumers for com-prehensive information about their health issues throughout the life cycle accentuate the need for holistic health education to occur in every patient–nurse encounter.
The nurse as a teacher is challenged, not only to provide specific patient and family education, but also to focus on the educational needs of communities. Health education is important to nursing care, because it can determine how well individuals and families are able to perform behaviors conducive to optimal self-care.
Teaching, as a function of nursing, is included in all state nurse practice acts and in the Standards of Clinical Nursing Prac-tice of the American Nurses Association (ANA, 1998). Health ed-ucation is an independent function of nursing practice and is a primary responsibility of the nursing profession. All nursing care is directed toward promoting, maintaining, and restoring health; preventing illness; and assisting people to adapt to the residual effects of illness. Many of these nursing activities are accomplished through health education or patient teaching.
Every contact a nurse has with a health care consumer, whether that person is ill or not, should be considered an opportunity for health teaching. Although the person has a right to decide whether or not to learn, the nurse has the responsibility to present information that will motivate the person to recognize the need to learn. Therefore, the nurse must seize opportunities both in-side and outside health care settings to facilitate wellness. Educa-tional environments can include homes, hospitals, community health centers, places of business, service organizations, shelters, and consumer action or support groups.
This emphasis on health education stems in part from the public’s right to comprehensive health care, which includes up-to-date health information. It also reflects the emergence of an informed public that is asking more significant questions about health and the health care services it receives. Because of the importance American society places on health and the responsibility each of us has to maintain and promote our own health, members of the health care team, specifically nurses, are obligated to make health education consistently available. Without adequate knowledge and training in self-care skills, consumers cannot make effective decisions about their health.
People with chronic illnesses are among those most in need of health education. As the life span of our population continues to increase, the number of people with such illnesses will also in-crease. People with chronic illness need health care information to participate actively in and assume responsibility for much of their own care. Health education can help these individuals to adapt to illness, prevent complications, carry out prescribed ther-apy, and solve problems when confronted with new situations. It can also prevent crisis situations and reduce the potential for re-hospitalization resulting from inadequate information about self-care. The goal of health education is to teach people to live life to its healthiest—that is, to strive toward achieving their maximum health potential.
In addition to the public’s right to and desire for health edu-cation, patient education is also a strategy for reducing health care costs by preventing illness, avoiding expensive medical treatments, decreasing lengthy hospital stays, and facilitating earlier discharge. For health care agencies, offering community wellness programs is a public relations tool for increasing patient satisfaction and for developing a positive image of the institution. Patient education is also a cost-avoidance strategy for those who believe that positive staff–patient relationships avert malpractice suits.