hospital community group with high incidence of diabetes and low literacy presents to the teaching efforts of a hospital nurse.
Description of the selected adult learner, learning topic and related hospital circumstances
I am a registered clinical nurse in St. Vincent's hospital. We are a medium-sized hospital located in a highly diverse part of the town. We have a sizeable domestic and Spanish inpatient population with diabetes, including people with long-standing diabetes related complications and co-morbidities requiring inpatient expertise. Today, that population seems to be increasing. Almost 80% of all our adult patients lack literacy referring to the ability to read and write as well as knowledge about the topic of diabetes literacy. It is not only the printed word that challenges these patients with inadequate literacy; writing, speaking, listening numeracy, and conceptual knowledge is often impaired as well. About 2/3 of these illiterate patients are Latinos and the majority of these does not speak English. Our patient average age is between 50 years and 60 years.
Because diabetes is almost always a secondary diagnosis in secondary and tertiary care settings, there is not a constituent base of staff nurses dedicated to diabetes care, as once was the case. Previously, at our institution, patients were admitted to an endocrine unit for prolonged stays for diabetes control and education. This unit no longer exists, and diabetes patients are now found everywhere in our hospital. However, at times, one can find a cluster of patients with diabetes on the general medical units (primary diagnosis, in some cases) or on the cardiology unit for example.
There is no diabetes teaching protocol in our hospital. We only have a written diabetes education plan (see below). The hospital management has obliged staff nurses to make themselves familiar with the education plan in order to be able to teach our diabetes patients about the risks of the disease and how a proper nutritional and exercise protocol can drastically improve their health in addition to the medication prescribed to them.
Only very little communication exchange takes place in the teaching process. The plan relies heavily on a one-sided approach because of the difficulty to reach patients with inadequate literacy at all. The plan does not encourage questioning the patients about lifestyle habits, nutritional preferences etc. And not surprisingly in turn patients very rarely address any questions to us nurses.
The hospital does not have a registered dietitian to bring into the mix to educate patients about how a healthy diet can have a positive impact on their diabetes and how a not so healthy one can have a negative impact. We also do not have a trained translator to facilitate communication with the only Spanish speaking patient community.
Description of the current diabetes education plan
We have a written diabetes education plan. The plan stipulates one-to-one instruction to our patients. Our patients are expected to be able to provide "return demonstrations" of concepts and psychomotor skills before discharge. Pre- and post instruction knowledge tests are the norm. The curriculum is long and detailed, and information is provided through booklets written in English that we hand out to our patients.
Linguistic accessibility addresses the presence of bilingual staff or professional interpreters, as well as bilingual education materials (Reimer & Kelley (2001), P. 5). It presents a problem in the hospital because we do not have enough English/Spanish bilingual staff and no professional interpreter. The curriculum is long and detailed, and information is provided through booklets written for patients.
As mentioned above, our educational efforts are one-on-one nurses who do not speak Spanish try their best to make themselves understandable in English. If English-speaking family members of the illiterate patient are available, we ask them to translate what we told the patient into Spanish. The current plan foresees that the nurses communicate as much detail as possible regarding the latest scientific findings on diabetes. Little focus is on the daily management of diabetes. We tell Instead, our intercultural diabetes education program is broadly implemented. Essentially, the nurses tell the patient what to eat and what not and that he/she better include a little exercise in their day. We want to reach as many patients as possible with an educational approach that is unrelated to patient beliefs and practices because we think that it is best if patients start practicing new nutritional ways "right from scratch" and not focus any longer on old bad habits that sometimes linger almost all their life long. The program is designed to get them "off" bad nutritional and lifestyle habits in the shortest time because most of them are already in a somehow worrying health situation and will leave the hospital soon.
Therefore, the current program in general does not build on a patient's health belief, preferred learning style, lifestyle preferences and practices, and community context.
If our patient's relatives or friends want to talk to us about diabetes and what can be done against it we of course talk to them, but our program does not entail to glean information from family members or friends before initiating our education program.
Because our patients have difficulties in understanding the whole educational program and to articulate themselves, the education program dispenses from articulating clear dietary goals. It instead focuses on an integrated approach of "healing the whole person" irrespective of his cultural or economic situation. It thereby takes account of the latest scientific developments in diabetes research and the hospital personnel tries its best to communicate these findings to our illiterate patients by circumscribing them in "easy words" so that they are somehow understandable even for the lay person.
There is little to no indication that the illiterate diabetes patients will engage in positive self-management practices after being discharged. Very often we hear from these patients who do not practice healthy behaviors already at the first encounter that they "don't care about their health" and are "not interested in diabetes education." When asked what things they can do to take care of diabetes right before their release almost 90% say "take medications."
Critique of the current plan
In general, I would criticize that the current plan -- with all its flaws -- is only an "education" plan and not (also) a "learning" plan. Successful teaching requires successful learning and this is missing here at all. I would furthermore find fault with the following: Cultural variation in learning styles is an important consideration in patient education (Reimer & Kelley (2001), p. 13). The current education program disregards this finding.
The education plan provides far too much (unnecessary and patient-confusing) detail on medical science related to diabetes at the expense of essential information on daily management of diabetes. The illiterate Latino patients are certainly overwhelmed by this approach and -- if there had been any initial interest in learning about the disease -- it will dissipate in the shortest when being confronted with medical jargon on the disease even if the nurses aim to "translate" it to the patients' needs.
Following the recommendations of Reimer and Kelley (2003) I would give much more focus on patient information on a healthy lifestyle nutritional and exercise regime instead of its scientific bases. The education program should be tailored to the needs of each patient because each patient has different needs. Subjecting a patient under a generalized diabetic education and learning plan does not address his particular needs and therefore not prove helpful. Instead it is a waste of precious hospital time of all persons involved and will cause unnecessary healthcare costs.
Against this background, I would criticize that the learning plan does not stipulate to interview the patients' support surrounding about his/her health beliefs, preferred learning styles, lifestyle, nutritional and exercise practices, and community context before initiating the education program. Certainly I would ask these people for cultural information that can be well incorporated here as it relates to the area of health education. For example, if my intervention is nutrition counseling, I find inclusion of common foods, methods of preparation and typical units of food measurement necessary.
Using written diabetes education materials in English language certainly goes nowhere with illiterate or low literate patients. With regard to patients of different ethnicity and culture, research has shown that written diabetes educational materials need to be culturally congruent in language, beliefs; perceptions in order to reach these patients (see Reimer & Kelley (2001), p. 14). The English written booklets on diabetes that are given out to the only Spanish speaking Latino patient community at the hospital do not even try to adjust educational messages according to the patient's ability to absorb and apply to personal lifestyles.
Ways to improve the plan
The goals of diabetes management are to reduce the personal tragedy and public health cost of diabetes and its complications and to enhance the quality of life for people with diabetes. People with diabetes need sufficient self-care knowledge to manage their diabetes effectively (Davis (2000), p. 4). Patients' self-management practices have substantial consequences on morbidity and mortality…