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What Is Involved in Inpatient Education?

By Susan Abe
Updated May 17, 2024
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Education has become an increasingly important aspect of a Western patient's hospitalization over the past decades as the healthcare system and health insurance companies seek to increase patient autonomy and prevent needless hospital readmissions. Inpatient education begins with a patient's admission. Physicians, nurses, laboratory phlebotomists, x-ray technicians and other healthcare providers are all trained to introduce themselves to the patient and explain what medical procedure they are performing and why. In Western hospitals, inpatient education topics must be documented in the patient's hospital chart according to legal standards of medical and nursing care. Inpatient education involves patient and family instruction regarding the patient's admitting diagnoses, medications, treatments, diet and recommended activity level through verbal instruction, videos, brochures and individualized information printouts.

The admitting physician usually verbally initiates a basic introduction to the patient’s suspected diagnosis or diagnoses. Inpatient education continues with nursing personnel explaining medical terms used by the physician and covering the same information in terms commensurate with an assessment of the patient's educational background. For specific disease conditions that will require significant self-care at home after discharge — diabetes mellitus, ostomy surgeries and coronary artery disease — referrals are made to specialized nurse educators. These instructors reiterate the inpatient education instructions provided thus far and provide specialized instruction on self-care after discharge. Sessions with nurse educators usually include opportunities to practice new self-care skills, such as injecting insulin or changing an ostomy bag.

Inpatient education also involves instruction regarding special prescribed diets. This instruction may involve referrals to instructional nutritionists who visit the patient to ascertain his or her current diet, the prescribed diet and how to bridge the gap between the two. Instruction by nutritionists is particularly helpful for patients diagnosed with coronary artery disease or diabetes mellitus. These healthcare professionals often provide sample menus, recipes or even cookbooks to patients. During the patient's stay, other healthcare workers may reinforce dietary restrictions or instructions when they provide the patient's next meal tray.

Physical therapists may also be involved in inpatient education, depending upon the patient's diagnoses, physical limitations and any prescribed exercises for recovery. Required exercises to be continued after discharge are practiced as part of the patient's inpatient education. Physical therapists may also provide written instructions for the necessary exercises as well as the prescribed frequency with which they should be performed.

Inpatient education also involves frequent review of the patient's anticipated discharge medications, their purposes, instructions for administration and accompanying side effects. Many hospitals now have computerized systems that will print out drug information and instructions for each individual discharge medication. In the US, patients must sign to acknowledge receipt of the details of their inpatient education and discharge instructions before leaving the facility.

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