Knowing Your Patient’s Learning Style

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By: Debbie Finnel, Chief Executive Officer

Why is knowing your patient’s learning style so important? 

Think about your own learning victories and learning struggles.  Are you a visual learner or maybe your someone who can translate verbal instructions into understanding?  For me I’ve always learned quicker when I had visual aids.  I was recently at dinner with a colleague who pointed out a picture of a dish he said he would have never considered had he not seen a picture of it on the menu. 

How many times have you had an annual physical when your doctor shared your lab results and not know what it all meant but you don’t want to admit it, so you leave and don’t really know what is going on with your health.  I’m guilty of this but know that I have skin in the game if I want to stay healthy, so I have learned to ask more questions that help me walk away from my appointment being able to explain to my wife how my health is and what I need to do differently.      

Clinicians of all specialties but more so primary care will be steps ahead when they are intentional with their patient education strategy.  The surest method to spark patient engagement is to know that the patient understands their health treatment plan.  This is typically achieved through a few simple steps I have outlined below. 

How will you know if your patient understands what you are telling them and knows what to do with their treatment plan? 

  1. They attend their follow up appointments
  2. They ask questions
  3. They may bring a care giver or loved one to make sure they don’t miss anything

Every patient is different, and their education means something different.

  • Access your patient’s health literacy:  Before implementing any patient education techniques the clinician must assess the patient’s current knowledge level.
    • Any educational material will be useless if patient doesn’t have functional health literacy “degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”
    • There are different health literacy assessments. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has several resources:
  • My favorite is patient teach-back: Clinician explains an important concept, procedure, or self-management technique.  Clinician then asks the patient to repeat back in their own words.  This highlights whether the patient truly understands the health information.  If not, the clinician has an opportunity to take a different approach to ensure the patient understands.  This is a critical moment for both the clinician and the patient so pump the brakes and make sure the patient KNOWS what to do and why they are doing it. 

This creates a gateway to better communication, better understanding and truly partnering with the patient for the best outcome.   

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