What Is Effective Patient Education?

The goal of patient education is to improve outcomes. Physicians, including psychiatrists, must be effective educators to promote understanding, adherence, and motivation for self-management among patients. Yet, how do physicians become effective patient educators and make a positive impact on patients’ behavior? According to a study by Katey Savage, RTT, BMRSc., B.Sc., et al. published in the Journal of Medicine Imaging and Radiation Sciences, how information is received depends on the individual’s learning style. Therefore, understanding those different learning styles can help a physician identify how patients learn best. By assessing each patient’s learning style, health care professionals can find innovative ways to educate patients about the disease process and self-management.

What Are Learning Styles?

According to the VARK Model, as described by Kendra Cherry on the Verywellmind website, learning styles are categorized into visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic.

  • Visual learners understand best by seeing information presented in a visual rather than written form.

  • Auditory learners process new information by hearing and repeating back the explanation for validation.

  • Reading/writing learners understand information by writing it down as words and text.

  • Kinesthetic learners absorb information by touching and by active participation through demonstration.

While determining learning styles helps with education strategies, Cara Marcus, director of library services at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, suggests in her research study published in Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine that an accurate health literacy assessment and determination are key elements to successful learning and comprehension. In other words, to apply methods for an effective assessment of learning, educators must consider not only the learning styles but also the health literacy of patients.

What Is Health Literacy and Why Is It Important?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines personal health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.” HHS’s Healthy People 2030 initiative believes personal health literacy supports the goal of enabling people to move from understanding to action and thereby from improving their own health to the health of others.

How Do You Assess for Health Literacy and Low Health Literacy Skills?

In her article “Assessing and Addressing Health Literacy,” Sandy Cornett, Ph.D., RN, provides practical tips that can be applied in your practice:

  • Do not ask patients about their education level as this is not an indicator of reading ability.

  • Ask targeted questions. For example: Do you need help with forms, reading prescription bottles, or health education sheets? Do you have any difficulty reading and remembering health information?

  • RAdminister a screening test such as the Newest Vital Sign whereby patients are asked to read a nutritional label while the health care professional asks questions to assess their ability to read and apply information.

  • Ask patients to read prescription bottles and have them explain how to take their medication.

  • Observe and look for clues that indicate problems with reading and comprehension including incomplete medical history, checking items as “no” to avoid follow-up questions, making excuses when asked to read or fill out forms, and errors regarding their medication.

Effective patient education in which there is evidence of increased understanding of illness and conditions and improvement in health-promoting behavior hinges upon adequate and accurate assessment of the patient’s learning style and health literacy. ■

This information is provided as a risk management resource for Allied World policyholders and should not be construed as legal or clinical advice. This material may not be reproduced or distributed without the express, written permission of Allied World Assurance Company Holdings Ltd, a Fairfax company (“Allied World”). Risk management services are provided by or arranged through AWAC Services Company, a member company of Allied World. © 2022 Allied World Assurance Company Holdings, Ltd. All rights reserved.

“Preferences in Learning Styles and Modes of Information Delivery in Patients Receiving First-Day Education for Radiation Therapy” is posted here.

“Learning Style Inventory Types and Their Uses” is posted here.

“Assessing and Addressing Health Literacy” is posted here.

Information on the Newest Vital Sign is posted here.

Gloria Umali, RN, MS, CPHRM, is assistant vice president of the Risk Management Group of AWAC Services Company, a member company of Allied World. Risk management services are provided as an exclusive benefit to insureds of the APA-endorsed American Professional Agency Inc. liability insurance program.


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