The teach back method is used in many different types of scenarios when working one on one with patients but we are going to look at using the teach back method for patient advocacy on the phone.

Your organization may have customer service representatives or clinical reps that need to speak with healthcare patients on the phone. The role of the customer service rep is not about accepting complaints.  It is about patient advocacy and that has to be made very clear to the patient that you are on their side and there to advocate for them, provide them with resolutions, resources and answers.

sad woman on the womanThe most important skill that any advocate can have is empathy, to be able to understand how that patient feels.  One method to gaining empathy is to truly listen to the patient and this is where the teach back method comes in – you must listen to the patient in order to pull out your questions so that you can better understand where they are coming from.

We regularly specialize in healthcare translations and in doing so, we work with many different kinds of clients that use healthcare translations.  Many of these organizations start with an initiative in Plain language writing and health literacy for their English communications and we become a fit for organizations like this because we work in this area and regularly do Health Literacy Awareness Training.  On a recent call with a healthcare solutions organization, a client said that they have had great success with Plain Language writing in their member communications but they wanted to extend that to their reps that are on the phone. Can you teach plain language speaking? It was an interesting question and I knew right away what she wanted to get across.

4 elements of empathy in using teach back for patient advocacyWhen you are dealing with patients or health plan members on the phone, you have to have a culture of empathy if you truly want to be an advocate for them. There are also varying degrees of empathy and there are empathy traps that a person can have so an organization needs to figure out where they want to draw the line and then also how they can enhance one’s empathy. The Teach back method is not a method to test or quiz the patient on what they know but rather a method to show how well you did or didn’t do as the rep on the phone in explaining or helping them with their issues.  It is the elimination of Yes/No questions.  A patient might readily respond yes to a question not wanting to expose their lack of understanding for a myriad of reasons.  So instead, the teach back becomes a way to open the door to conversation and gives you a window into understanding the patient.

Sample conversation with Teach Back Method for patient advocacy

doctor being a patient advocate and using teach back method

Here’s a sample conversation: A rep may say, “So Mary, I want to make sure that I have done a good job explaining your medication and how you are going to take it. Tell me in your own words what you are going to tell your husband Jim, who I know is helping you.”

Mary says, “Well I know I have 2 different pills that I should take 2 times a day, one in the morning and one at night.  I need to eat before I take the medicine too. I probably should keep them on the kitchen counter next to the sink so I remember them and water is right there too.”

So Mary may have gotten your directions right but if you’re listening closely, there are a few opportunities here to ask more and make sure Mary understands the importance of adherence.

Customer rep: “Well Mary, you mentioned something that’s very important for us to talk about. How will you remember to take your medicine?”

Mary says, “Well I’m sure Jim will remind me because he is up early before me. I can ask him to do that.”

Customer rep: “Having support with reminders is going to be very important.  Jim can be a partner in helping you get better. Let’s also think of some other ways you can remember to take your medicine, ok?  Do you have a pill box?

Mary: “Yes, I have one with the letters on it like the days of the week.”

Rep: “Okay, that’s a great tool to have.  Let’s pick a day of the week that you are going to fill that box with the pills”

So this conversation can go on. You can listen and learn about Mary’s barriers to taking her medicine, get insight into her home life and support systems and most importantly, make sure she understands your directions.  Listening with empathy is a key skill that can inspire you to probe more (to find the barriers) and genuinely want to make sure that Mary takes her medicine and does so correctly. You’re the advocate and want Mary to be successful.

Want to learn more about the Teach Back method? Give us a call to see how we can brand the training for your organization and implement it according your needs.  Want to learn more about Teach Back online?  AHRQ has the toolkit for teach back which is a good baseline set of tools.

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