Using the Teach-Back Method to Improve Patient Understanding of Instructions

According to an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) report, only 12% of adults are able “to obtain, process and understand basic health information” necessary to make appropriate care decisions. Lack of health literacy leaves many patients unclear about their physicians’ directions, causing confusion which can impact medication adherence, dietary and behavioral guidelines and more.

To support improved communication between healthcare teams, patients and families, a recent AHRQ paper recommends the “teach-back” method. This evidence-based technique ensures that physicians have explained instructions in a manner the patient understands and includes the following steps:

  1. Communicate and teach information.
  2. Ask patient to teach back the information in their own words. Allow patient to consult materials.
  3. If the patient cannot articulate the information back correctly, providers should instruct them again using different language and verbiage, and do so until the patient is able to teach back what they have learned correctly.

AHRQ reports that federal programs are working to provide all Americans with health-literate care, but providers should still be “diligent about checking patient’s understanding of their care.” Click here to access educational resources from AHRQ on the teach-back intervention.