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Bridging the Communication Gap to Prevent Readmissions: The “Teach Back Method” (a.k.a. “Closing the Loop”). Dean Schillinger, MD UCSF Professor of Medicine Director, Center for Vulnerable Populations San Francisco General Hospital. Objectives.

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Bridging the communication gap to prevent readmissions the teach back method a k a closing the loop l.jpg

Bridging the Communication Gap to Prevent Readmissions: The “Teach Back Method” (a.k.a. “Closing the Loop”)

Dean Schillinger, MD

UCSF Professor of Medicine

Director, Center for Vulnerable Populations

San Francisco General Hospital

Objectives l.jpg

  • Provide 3 actionable tips to improve communication at discharge:

    • Reduce jargon

    • Assess for medication discordance

    • Use teach-back technique (aka teach-to-goal, closing the loop, show-me-approach)

Medical jargon l.jpg







Medical Jargon

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Function of Jargon

Assess Symptoms



Deliver Test Results




Provide Health



n = 60

Castro, Schillinger AJHB 2007

Jargon terms l.jpg




Weight is stable

Microvascular complication

System of nerves


EKG abnormalities


Wide Range

Risk factors

Kidney function









Jargon Terms

  • washed out of your system

  • receptors

  • short course

  • renal clinic

  • blood cells

  • increase your R

  • screening

  • vaccine

  • CAT scan

  • blood count

  • correlate

  • stool was negative

  • stool

  • baseline

  • respiratory tract

  • polyp

  • …from Patient’s own visit:

  • benign

  • blood drawn

  • blood count

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Dialysis “Do you know what the number one cause for people in this country being on dialysis is? Diabetes”

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Patient Comprehension of Jargon (% Some /Total Understanding)

Unclarified / Own Visit

Unclarified Jargon

Clarified Jargon

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WHY TEACH BACK? Understanding)

  • Clinicians frequently overwhelm patients with information and advice, and patients only recall or comprehend 1/2 what was said (probably less in hospital settings).

  • Physician’s advice and instruction is often delivered out of context, is based on assumptions of shared meaning, and rarely is tailored to the individual patient’s needs.

  • The “teach-back” method, if used early and often, can -

    • Ensure information is understood/integrated into memory

    • Check for lapses in communication

    • Open dialogue re health beliefs and unanticipated barriers to “action plans,” and self-mgmt

    • Reinforce and tailor health messages

    • Promote a common understanding or “shared meaning”

    • Elicit patient participation/activation

    • Maintain your curiosity in the patient as a unique person, with unique stories to tell-

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WHAT IS IT? Understanding)

  • I employ the “teach-back method” in all of my encounters with patients (and families) at discharge, particularly for those in whom self-management is a central component in preventing readmission.

  • In this interactive technique, the clinician prioritizes amongst the information exchange and explicitly asks the patient to “teach-back” what he/she has recalled and understood re those high-priority domains.

  • Similarly, clinicians can use the strategy to assess patient’s perceptions of the information or advice given.

  • The technique can be used toward the end of a visit or during the course of the visit, so as to tailor communication earlier.

  • Teach-back is NQF Safe Practice #10 for informed consent discussions, and is gaining momentum as a Safe Practice for Discharge

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What is the Evidence that It Can Work? Understanding)

  • Informed Consent Studies

  • Diabetes Management in Ambulatory Care

  • Asthma Education in Hospitalized Patients

  • CHF Self Management Education/Diuretic Self-Titration

Sudore 2006; Schillinger 2003;

Paasche-Orlow 2005; DeWalt 2006

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Closing the loop l.jpg
Closing the Loop lapses

  • Physicians assessed recall or comprehension for 15/124 new concepts (12%)

  • When new concepts included patient assessment, patient provided incorrect response half the time (7/15=47%)

  • Visits using interactive communication loop not longer (20.3 min. vs. 22.1 min)

  • Application of loop associated with better HbA1c (AOR 9.0, p=.02)

Schillinger Arch Int Med 2003

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The number of passes required through consent process to obtain informed consent, by participant characteristics

Sudore, Schillinger 2006 JGIM

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Provider-Patient Concordance in Medication Regimen obtain informed consent, by participant characteristics

  • Patients with atrial fibrillation at high risk of stroke

  • Treatment with warfarin (blood-thinner) reduces risk of stroke by 70%

  • Requires close monitoring and frequent dose adjustments

  • Miscommunication/ inappropriate dosing can lead to poor outcomes (stroke or bleeding)

  • Studies have shown miscommunication rates (discordance) as high as 50%

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Literacy, Discordance and Safety obtain informed consent, by participant characteristics

  • Anticoagulant regimen concordance lower for patients with inadequate vs adequate literacy (42 % vs 64 %, OR = 0.41, P<0.01),

  • Anticoagulant discordance associated with being out of therapeutic range:

    • under-anticoagulation (AOR 1.67, p=.05)

    • over-anticoagulation (AOR 3.44, p=.01)

Schillinger J Health Comm 2006

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Computerized Visual Medication Schedule Linked to Brief Scripted “Teach-Back”

Machtinger, Schillinger 2007 in press

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Intervention Reduces Scripted “Teach-Back”

Time To Therapeutic Range (N=142)

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Overall Results: Scripted “Teach-Back”

Time To Therapeutic Range (N=142)

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HOW? Scripted “Teach-Back”Example 1 (medication change):

  • Doctor (to patient): “ I want to make sure I did a good job explaining your heart medications, because this can sometimes be confusing. Can you tell me what changes we decided to make and how you NOW will take the medications? “

  • Note especially how the physician places the onus of any possible mis-communication on him/herself. In other words, the “teach-back” task is conveyed not as a test of the patient, but of how well the physician explained the concept.

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HOW? Scripted “Teach-Back”Example #2: Behavior Change

  • Nurse (to patient):

    “ We’ve spent the last few minutes discussing how you are going to exercise and how you are going to change what you eat. These things can be heard to change. Can you repeat back to me these new plans on exercise and eating? And can you tell me how easy or difficult these will be for you to do and what problems you might have in doing them? This will help me give you the best advice? “

  • Note how the nurse normatizes any possible dis-agreement re the plan or future non-adherence to the agreed-upon plan by framing such disclosures as one means to improve on the nature of any advice.

  • It is important to give the patient time and space to respond; avoid interrupting the patient before he/she has a chance to respond.

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How Not To… Scripted “Teach-Back”Example #3: Taking the Easy Way Out

  • Doctor (to patient): “Do you understand what we just talked about? “ or “Do you understand the plan regarding your blood pressure medications?” “Did that makes sense?”

  • These routine queries, which do not require explicit articulation of recall, comprehension, or perceptions on the part of the patient, will universally be met with an uninformative (and possible falsely re-assuring) “Yes, doctor”.

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CONCLUSIONS: Scripted “Teach-Back”

  • A simple communication tool – the “teach-back method”, a.k.a. “Closing the Loop” - if used early, often, and at strategic moments, can help promote more effective two-way discourse between clinicians and patients without significantly lengthening the discharge communication time

  • When linked very clear prioritization re key information, it is a very promising practice to prevent re-hospitalization