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Communication Essentials

Impactful technique

After a Qualis Health training at a local hospital, read how one nurse tearfully realized the value of Teach Back.

Use Teach Back to increase patient comprehension and decrease risks during care transitions

Published in the Communities for Safer Transitions of Care Monthly Briefing, June 2012
 

None of us are at our best when ill or under stress—yet those are the very conditions that patients often experience when they interact with healthcare professionals. How can we be sure that patients fully understand the implications of their diagnosis, their discharge instructions, or other important news related to their health?

Studies have shown that patients who are asked to recount instructions, using "Teach Back" techniques, have greater recall and comprehension. The Teach Back method actively involves patients in the discussion—and greater patient activation is correlated with reduced risk for rehospitalization.

Patients should be able to explain, in everyday words:

  • Diagnosis / health problem for which they need care
  • Name / type / general nature of the treatment, service, or procedure
  • Issues or "red flags" to watch for and what to do when they occur
     

Teach Back Process

Who?

All staff interacting with patients and caregivers

 

When?

Early in the care process and at each decision point or transition

 

How?

Patients should be able to show they understand, and not just repeat back or nod.

The provider should own the concern:

  • "I want to be certain I explained this clearly"
  • "I want to be sure we have the same understanding"
  • "Can you tell me, in your own words..."

It is important to not make patients feel like they are being tested; rather, this is a double-check on how well the provider has explained things.

Once a gap in understanding is identified, offer additional teaching or explanation followed by a second request for Teach Back.

 
 

The Teach Back methodology is simply a shift in the provider's communication style and is not difficult to learn. In addition to the patient safety issues, this type of patient-centered communication also provides a real opportunity to enhance providers' skills and increase patient satisfaction.
 

Video demonstrations and discussion

Learn more about the impact of health literacy and how Teach Back can address this challenge by viewing videos produced by the American Medical Association Foundation (short version, approximately 5 minutes or long version, approximately 23 minutes).

Take an online course and get printer-friendly coaching tips in the Always Use Teach-back! training toolkit.

View Teach Back demonstrations produced by the North Carolina Program on Health Literacy.