Real Connections that Matter: Utilizing Relationship-based Education to Help Patients Achieve Better Outcomes

By Erin Wiles, RN
VMS BioMarketing Clinical Nurse Educator

In today's technology-driven world, patients use multiple communication channels to gain health education and advice. In addition to traditional face-to-face conversations, there are telephone calls, video chats, emails, text messages, and even mobile apps. Such techniques revolve strongly around accessibility, but at the root of every success story are the personal connections that are made in the process. Relationships with a Clinical Educator bring forth opportunities that the internet cannot: a partner who listens, discovers, reiterates, and follows up with the patient. These opportunities create a tremendous advantage for Clinical Educators to utilize a variety of communication channels to educate patients and have a powerful impact.

In any relationship, active listening is the key to beginning a strong connection and creates the most important bond between a patient and educator. This simple act allows me to discover what is motivating the push toward a healthier lifestyle, what goals the patient has for their journey, as well as what concerns they may have about the process. This can be done through an email, text, phone call, or in person by asking critical open-ended questions and carefully listening to the patient's responses. Developing this understanding of how the patient truly feels is the beginning of a great relationship.

Once I feel I have discovered the needs of my patients, I reiterate what I heard them say. Recapping helps build trust with patients and reassures them that I really understand their point of view. Once we have built that trust, Clinical Educators can start the work of keeping the patient accountable for the changes they are striving for. The best way to approach this task is by helping patients set realistic yet meaningful goals. To reach any goal, there must be a sense of accountability, which brings us to our next step as educators.

Accountability needs a motivator, and in the case of an educator, I am the motivator! Consider this example: a patient is searching for health information online. This is one of the most popular means of gaining health education in today's world, right? However, people may read information, but they may not be motivated to initiate steps on the things they have read. They keep this information in their mind, but don't necessarily take action.

This is where the real patient/educator connection comes into play. The strong relationship I form with patients will ultimately lead to better outcomes. Why? Relationship-based education provides the accountability to patients that online health information can lack. Relationship-based education provides the motivating factor and the follow-up necessary to assess progress toward the patient's goal.

Follow-up is the final piece to this puzzle. Utilizing any effective communication method, follow-up ensures that patients stay focused on what they felt was most important to them, and I am there to motivate them toward the finish line and help them reach their goals. Patients appreciate the ongoing support so they don't feel alone on their journey.

Following the listening, discovering, reiterating, and follow-up method brings the patient relationship full circle, providing the accountability and motivation that web-based information simply cannot achieve. Knowing that I help create these real connections with patients via several different communication channels, and help them in their journey is the beautiful and rewarding gift of being a Clinical Educator!