Choosing effective patient education materials

Alternate Names


Once you have assessed your patient’s needs, concerns, readiness to learn, preferences, support, and possible barriers to learning, you will need to:

  • Make a plan with your patient and their support person
  • Agree with the patient on realistic learning objectives
  • Select resources that fit the patient

Be aware of what the patient knows about their condition now. Some patients need time to adjust to new information, master new skills, or make short- or long-term lifestyle changes.

Getting Started

Assessing your patient’s preferences will likely have a direct impact on the patient education materials you select and the methods you use.

  • Find out how your patient likes to learn.
  • Be realistic. Focus on what your patient needs to know, not on what’s nice to know.
  • Pay attention to the patient’s concerns. There may be a fear to overcome before a skill can be taught.
  • Respect their limits. Figure out how to give the patient the right amount of information, including how you organize the information and how much the patient can handle at one time.
  • Be aware that you may need to adjust your plan, according to situations that could range from changes in your patient’s health status to an environmental factor like their lack of privacy.

Basic Priorities

With any type of patient education you will likely need to cover these basics:

  • What your patient needs to do and why
  • When your patient can expect results (if applicable)
  • Warning signs (if any) your patient should watch for
  • What your patient should do if a problem occurs
  • Who your patient should contact for questions or concerns

Patient Education Resource Options

There are so many ways to deliver patient education, such as one-on-one teaching, often with a demonstration. Try using analogies or “word pictures” to explain concepts.

You can also use one or more of the following examples:

  • Brochures or other printed materials
  • Podcasts
  • YouTube videos
  • Videos or DVDs
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Posters or charts
  • Models or props
  • Group classes
  • Trained peer educators

Selecting Materials

Using a mixed media approach works best. The type of resources that a patient or support person responds to varies from person to person.

Keep your assessment in mind. Are there literacy, cultural, or other factors to consider when you select education materials and develop a plan?

Avoid fear tactics. Focus instead on the benefits of education. Tell your patient what to pay special attention to.

Be sure to review any materials you plan to share with a patient before using them. Keep in mind that no resource is a substitute for one-on-one patient teaching.

Sometimes, despite a thorough search, it is impossible to find patient education information or the right materials that fit your patient. For example, it may be hard to find materials on new treatments, in certain languages, or on sensitive topics. Bring up those sensitive or difficult topics. And, when high quality materials are not available, consider creating the patient teaching tool your patients need.


Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 3/3/2012
  • Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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