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Choosing effective patient education materials

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 your patient on realistic learning objectives
  • Select resources that fit your patient's needs

The first step is to assess the patient's current knowledge about their condition and what they want to know. Some patients need time to adjust to new information, master new skills, or make short- or long-term lifestyle changes.

Getting Started

Your patient's preferences can guide your choice of education materials and methods.

  • Find out how your patient likes to learn.
  • Be realistic. Focus on what your patient needs to know, not on what is nice to know.
  • Pay attention to your patient's concerns. Your patient may have to overcome a fear before being open to teaching.
  • Respect your patient's limits. Offer your patient only the amount of information they can handle at one time.
  • Organize the information for easier comprehension.
  • Be aware that you may need to adjust your education plan based on your patient's health status and environmental factors.

Basic Priorities

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

  • 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 many ways to deliver patient education. Examples include one-on-one teaching, demonstrations, and analogies or word pictures to explain concepts.

You can also use one or more of the following teaching tools:

  • 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

When selecting materials:

  • The type of resources that a patient or support person responds to varies from person to person. Using a mixed media approach often works best.
  • Keep your assessment of your patient in mind. Consider factors such as literacy, numeracy, and culture as you 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 use before sharing them with your patient. Keep in mind that no resource is a complete substitute for one-on-one patient teaching.

In some cases, it may not be possible to get the right materials for your patients' needs. For example, it may be hard to find materials on new treatments in certain languages or on sensitive topics. Instead, you may try having a discussion with the patient on sensitive topics or creating your own tools for your patient's needs.


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. Use health education material effectively: Tool #12. Updated September 2020. Accessed October 27, 2023.

Bukstein DA. Patient adherence and effective communication. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2016;117(6):613-619. PMID: 27979018

Cutilli CC. Excellence in patient education: evidence-based education that "sticks" and improves patient outcomes. Nurs Clin North Am. 2020;55(2):267-282. PMID: 32389259

Health Care Education Association website. Tools and resources : patient education practice guidelines for health care professionals. Accessed October 27, 2023.

Review Date 10/13/2023

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.