How to Speak to Your Patients Based on Their Learning Style

Healthcare consumerism is changing the face of the medical industry and improving health literacy. A comprehensive health education strategy works to improve the healthcare experience, but only if presented in a format that matches how your patients learn.

Speaking to patients in a language they can understand and accommodating their learning style will maximize the effectiveness of educational interactions with patients. Sometimes it may take more than words to get a point across. Whether it’s medical animations, infographics, or something more tactile (such as a model), patients and providers both benefit from programs designed to increase compliance and decrease stress.

The Seven Basic Learning Styles

Since the 1970s, educators have been using learning styles to create educational materials that appeal to all students. Clinicians can use that same basic theory when dealing with patients.

  1. Visual – Visual learners like to see information. Around 50% of the brain is dedicated to processing the things we see, so offering visual media (like videos and illustrations) will make sense for most patients.
  2. Aural – Auditory learners want to listen. Hearing someone explain a medical procedure will help them learn the information.
  3. Verbal – Verbal learning is a combination of speaking and writing. For example, talking about a surgery or care plan, and then providing a questionnaire to help reinforce the information.
  4. Solitary – Solitary learning is self-study. Posting medical animations online for patients to watch anytime combines a number of learning styles with solitary self-study.
  5. Social – Support groups and role-playing are ways that patient educators can provide a social setting for learning.
  6. Physical – Physical or kinetic learners remember information by doing or experiencing. Guiding an asthma patient through a breathing therapy is an example of kinetic learning.
  7. Logical – The use of lists and key points introduces logic and reasoning into learning. Consider this statistic: Seventy-two percent of patients who use the Internet go online for health information. This statistic creates a logical connection between using the Internet and providing online patient health information.

How to Assess a Patient’s Learning Style

Assessing a patient’s learning style is a fundamental step to improving your education strategy. Ask the patient about something they recently learned. For example, what do they know about their disease or injury? Where did they get that information? You can use this to understand a patient’s learning readiness level and get a feel for what style of learning would work best. What is an average day like for the patient? What kind of work do they do? How close are they with family? Interview questions like these help assess the patient’s health literacy.

If after a brief interview the best learning approach is still unclear, ask the patient what they want. Would they like to see a video about an upcoming procedure, or take home materials to read through and study? Would they rather watch a medical animation online later and then come back and discuss it with you at the next appointment?

Patient education makes the patient a participant in his or her own care. It works to change behaviors and improve outcomes, but only if the patient walks away with a better understanding of their condition.


One thought on “How to Speak to Your Patients Based on Their Learning Style

  1. This was an excellent article. Having been a patient educator for many years before going into higher education, the summary on teaching styles was helpful and a great reminder that we all need to pay attention to how we teach and when and where.

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