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"Teach Back" communication technique is quickly embraced by hospital staff and patients

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This article was originally published in April 2010.

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As part of the Stepping Stones Project in Whatcom County, WA, Qualis Health taught the Teach Back communications technique to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center staff members. (Teach Back is a simple protocol that allows healthcare providers to assess and correct patient's understanding of important instructions, such as those provided during a hospital discharge.)

The technique was immediately embraced: when Qualis Health introduced hospital leaders to Teach Back, the leaders requested that we start training the cardiovascular unit staff in Teach Back the very same day.

Over the course of three months, more than 70 staff members were trained, including a nurse educator who started providing the training herself. The transition from the Qualis Health team to the hospital went smoothly and  has enhanced the sustainability of the concepts. This success was evident in their recent annual skills competency fair.

The Teach Back technique has provided value to patients and increased the providers' skills. In addition, St. Joseph has received recognition for their efforts in this area. The hospital was recognized by being invited to present at the recent Washington State Hospital Association's Safe Tables Collaborative on Reducing Readmissions and to share their story during an Institute for Healthcare Improvement STAAR Project “Ring of Knowledge” national call.

Example highlights the impact of Teach Back at discharge

The following email excerpt, from a staff nurse to her manager, illustrates the positive impact made by the use of the Teach Back method:

“I have to begin by saying that I was not really seeing the value of the Teach Back program. I have changed my mind completely and I want to share the reason why with you.

Last week I was doing patient discharge teaching with an 85 year-old woman and her daughter. Part of her discharge teaching was reviewing the MI packet.  We went over all the materials and the patient was restating important points back to me.

As I had just been to the Teach Back part of our competency fair the day before, it was fresh in my memory to ask the patient to "share her understanding" of the exercise portion of the packet.  She stated "Well my life is going to change drastically and I won't be able to do much of anything anymore or go places I liked to go to before". The patient’s understanding was nothing like the painstaking teaching we had just reviewed.

I was later in tears thinking about how this dear little lady could have gone home and given up on living her life as fully as possible. Had I not asked the question I would have thought she was ready for home. The questions are life-changing.

Thanks for this program. Now I get it.”