A Safe Passage from the NICU to Home: The Importance of Health Literacy and Discharge Instructions
Nearly half of all US adults have difficulty understanding and using health information. To the nurses at ProgenyHealth, health literacy is the ability of parents whose newborn(s) are in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to attain, process, and understand health information and services needed to make informed decisions.
One issue healthcare is faced with is whether parents truly understand the discharge instructions and are able to apply the information provided to them once they are in the home setting. Taking an infant home is an anxious time for parents and limited parent/caregiver health literacy can result in increased stress and poor compliance with discharge instructions. Poor health literacy among parents can lead to increased infant mortality and morbidity along with increased cost of healthcare after discharge, especially with infants who have complex medical issues. If not appropriately prepared for discharge, limited literacy leads to increased hospitalizations, errors with medication administration, less knowledge of disease management and health promoting behaviors. Additionally caregivers are less likely to follow the discharge plan or use preventative services.
Assessing health literacy among parents is essential in health care today. Knowledge of parental health literacy can provide valuable information that will allow improved conversations and discharge teaching instructions. Discharge teaching should not be a cookie cutter approach; understanding the literacy level of the parent population allows the healthcare team to develop the appropriate teaching method to provide a safer discharge to home.
Nurses have the important role of communicating and providing parents with ongoing education, which at times can be challenging. The NICU infant that is ready to go home remains at risk for health related complications in the first year of life. A successful transition from the NICU to parents’ care requires careful planning and preparation for discharge. Recognizing parents’ educational needs requires astute assessment by skilled nurses. The nurse’s role plays a crucial part in the discharge path which should include efforts to improve parents’ ability to learn and retain discharge instructions. To improve the safety of transition from the NICU to home, parents discharge instructions need to be parent specific. The discharge material should provide parents with information that is easy to read, understand, and is culturally sensitive. From the day the infant is admitted to the NICU to the day they are discharged, NICU nurses teach the essential skill-sets parents need to care for their infants at home. Successful discharge preparation facilitates family readiness and ultimately improves outcomes in the important transition from the NICU to home.
Here at ProgenyHealth, our team of NICU nurses and social workers continuously collaborate with the hospital’s discharge planners, utilization reviewers, social workers, and care coordinators throughout the infant’s hospital stay. These teams work together, establishing the discharge plan and making sure the parents are educated on and comfortable with the discharge instructions. Our nurses are dedicated to providing parents with the essential tools and services needed to provide the safest transition from the NICU to home. We stay connected through the first year of life; guiding, educating, and supporting the family. We’re improving health literacy – one NICU family at a time.
About the Author:
Cindy Grosik, MSN, RNC, CNL, Nurse Case Manager at ProgenyHealth, has twenty-one years’ experience in neonatal nursing. She is a certified neonatal nurse who obtained her Master’s degree in Nursing as a Clinical Nurse Leader. Cindy has a special interest in the topic of parental stressors of NICU families; her research on the subject has been published. She enjoys ballroom dancing and spending time with her family.