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Educating Patients About Surgical Recovery: When, And How?

Educating patients about what to expect after surgery needs to start in the weeks beforehand. By helping patients understand what their surgery involves and preparing them both for the procedure and recovery, providers can improve patient satisfaction and make a real difference in how patients perceive their entire surgical experience and results. 

In a recent study, Gallup researchers surveyed 2,639 adults who underwent medical device implantation within the past year. Patients rated how much they agreed with the following statements using a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree):

  • I knew what to expect after surgery.
  • I was prepared for my experience post-surgery.
  • I followed post-surgery instructions, such as rehabilitation or medication.

When given before surgery, each of these educational components influenced post-surgical outcomes. Patients who strongly agreed with only one of these statements had higher levels of satisfaction with their procedures and fewer problems post-surgery compared to patients who did not feel as prepared. Below are some results:

  • I knew what to expect after surgery.

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Going into surgery with a good idea of what’s coming afterwards had the biggest impact on patient satisfaction. 72% of patients who strongly agreed that they knew what to expect after surgery were extremely satisfied with their surgery results, and only 8% reported post-surgical problems. 

  • I was prepared for my experience post-surgery.

Receiving preparatory education for the period after surgery resulted in 69% of patients who felt prepared reporting that they were extremely satisfied with their surgical outcome. Likewise, just 10% of this group reported a post-surgical problem. 

  • I followed post-surgery instructions, such as rehabilitation or medication.

Getting clear direction about rehab and medications can help patients stay on track after surgery. 59% of patients who followed post-surgery instructions were extremely satisfied with their outcome, with 17% reporting a post-surgical problem. 

When patients strongly agreed with more than one of the three statements, they experienced greater outcome improvements—and when they strongly agreed with all three statements, 71% were extremely satisfied with their surgery results, and 8% reported a problem after surgery. 

Those figures sound great, but keep in mind that only 37% of respondents strongly agreed with all three statements, while 17% strongly agreed with none of them. Interestingly, of the three statements used in the study, the two needing the most improvement concerned patients' post-surgery preparation: "I knew what to expect after surgery" and "I was prepared for my experience post-surgery.” 

By reconsidering their education strategies, establishing a proactive approach in education, and following it through past recovery and rehab, practices can do more to improve post-surgical outcomes.

Make communications count

The Gallup researchers, in partnership with Healthways, Inc., listed some best practices for refining patient education. Below are a few ways that healthcare practices can optimize their communication strategies.

  • Start educating early. When patients know what to expect, they are less anxious before procedures and less surprised afterward. Doctors and staff should be prepared to talk with patients about their upcoming procedure. 
  • Communicate regularly. Instead a one-time education session, set up times before surgery to provide information and instructions as well as anticipate issues the patient may have post-surgery.
  • Use checklists. Checklists covering when and how to educate patients before their procedure can help ensure that patients understand and work to meet post-surgery expectations.
  • Tailor communications. Providers can try using focus groups or surveys for former patients to see how different patient groups understand and retain health information. Doing this helps avoid using a “one size fits all” education strategy.
  • Develop and maintain content. Use credible, up-to-date content that can be accessed via multiple channels—including traditional and social media.
  • Include family and caregivers. Making family and caregivers part of the education process ensures that everyone will know what to expect and be able to prepare pre- and post-surgery.

Patients and their families have so much information to absorb before surgery, and just as much to do afterward, that keeping them on track without overwhelming them should be the main goal of providers’ educational efforts. Staying in touch and providing guidance along the recovery continuum will go a long way toward better outcomes and satisfaction for all concerned.

1 comment about "Educating Patients About Surgical Recovery: When, And How?".
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