Vitals News & Events


Home Health Information Using teach-back to improve health literacy

Using teach-back to improve health literacy

Health literacy logoWhen teaching students about many quality-filtered online resource that can be tapped to assist with research assignments, one very effective method is “teach-back:” students are asked to learn about a resource, and then present it to their peers shortly thereafter in class. This is done in context with a current assignment, and the resources highlighted will help them find the answers they need. As the motivational speaker and writer Stephen Covey points out in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, the best way to remember something is to teach it so someone else right away. And this has proven true in working with students.

This practice can be applied to the clinical setting as well. When prescribing medication or other treatments, physicians can ask their patients to tell them what they’ve just learned. The Amednews blog gives one example of how to make this happen, as offered by one physician:

“The way I do it is to ask, ‘When you get home tonight, your husband or wife will probably want to know what happened. What are you going to tell him or her about what you and I agreed to in the office today?’ ” Dr. Zeitz says.

“If they can’t tell me what it is they need to do in the format of talking to their spouse, that means they’re not in command of the material, and I haven’t gotten them to successfully understand it. If I see they’re not in command, then I take another crack at it.”

This post goes on to cite data that should give physicians pause before assuming that all patients understand instructions received:

  • Nearly 90% of U.S. adults are less than proficient in reading medical information.
  • 3 of 4 of people with limited literacy do not tell their doctors about it.

Are you a physician or clinician who faces these challenges? If so, how do you help patients understand complex information? Tell us about it!


O’Reilly, K. B. (2012). amednews: The ABCs of health literacy. March 19, 2012  Retrieved March 20, 2012.