Effective patient education is based on a learning needs assessment. Health care professionals assess by interviewing the patient and family, communicating with the medical team and/or observing the patient.  An examination of barriers that impact delivery of care is key in the development of a tailored plan to meet the needs, abilities and preferences of the patient. These practices empower patients to change behaviors and are referred to as “patient-centered” care.

Assessment Steps

  1. Assess sociodemographic information as well as support system, culture/values/beliefs and barriers to learning.
  2. Assess learning needs based on current health issues, knowledge and worries.
  3. Assess patient engagement in learning process (patient’s goals and priorities, motivation to learn).
  4. Assess learning preferences (verbal, written, visuals, multi-media, technology).
  5. Consider specific assessment tools.

Back to Guidelines Homepage

Assessment Steps Explanations/Examples/Scripts Ref List
1. Collect Information    

Review culture, social support and sociodemographic information directly with patient or from health record. Includes:

  • Age 
  • Gender/preferred pronoun
  • Ethnicity  
  • Social determinants of health: education, socioeconomic status, access to food and health care
  • Establish rapport, use caring tone and note body language.
  • Address culture, values, attitudes, beliefs:
    • “Do you have any beliefs or feelings related to your health condition that we need to know so we can help you learn to care for yourself?”
    • "What do you fear most about your sickness?"
  • Inquire about social support network:
    • “Who is your family member or friend who can help you with your healthcare?”
Note: Higher education and/or social economic status does not indicate better understanding of information.
List 1
 2. Current Status    
Address patient concerns and priorities first, then current knowledge and physical abilities.
  • “What are you most concerned about?”
  • “What do you do at home now to care for yourself?”
  • “Do you know anyone who has this condition?”
  • “What do you know about caring for someone with diabetes?”
List 2 
 3. Patient Engagement    
Assess patient confidence related to treatment plan adherence; self-efficacy
  • “Based on our discussion, here are the top 3 concerns you have for your health. What would you like to learn first?” 
  • “On a scale of 0 to 5, zero being low and five being high, how would you rate your confidence that you can follow your instructions and care for yourself at home?”
  • “What would you do if you have questions or doubts?”
List 3 
 4. Learning Preferences    
Consider a variety of options and best timing for education. 
  • “The last time you had to learn something, how did you go about it?”
  • “How do you learn best/prefer to learn?”
    • Reading
    • Demonstration
    • Video
    • Verbal 
    • Technology
  • Before offering technology (internet, patient portal, smart phone, computer, apps) ask:
    • “What technology do you use?”
    • “What technology are you interested in using?”
  • Best time to teach may be based on patient’s pain level, toileting needs, family member or friend support availability, quiet environment. 
List 4 
 5. Specific Assessment Tools    

Health care professionals have the option to use specific assessment tools.

  • Pre- and post-tests are designed to measure changes in self-care knowledge and/or behavior.
  • Assessment tools are typically used in research and quality improvement initiatives.
  • Knowledge/behavior assessments are used for specific health education.
List 5 
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