Patient Education: Learning readiness

Learning readiness refers to how likely a person is to seek out knowledge and participate in behavior change. Individuals go through various stages in order to adopt or maintain a new health behavior. In the pre-contemplative stage, the person is generally not aware of a problem or not ready to act. In the contemplative stage, the person is thinking about a change, but is not yet taking action. In the action stage, the person adopts a behavior change and is practicing it. In the maintenance stage, the person retains the new behavior as a result of reinforcement. In the last stage, the behavior is part of the individual’s lifestyle and is no longer seen as a change that needs attention or reinforcement. Education interventions work best if they match a person’s state of readiness. For example, if a patient is not even aware of a health problem or its consequences, health teaching should be directed toward raising awareness of the need for behavior change before any other learning takes place.

Many factors influence a patient’s readiness to learn. Anything that affects physical or psychological comfort such as pain, fatigue, anxiety, or fear can affect a person’s ability and motivation to learn. Try to match teaching content to the patient’s current stage of readiness with the objective of moving the patient along to the next stage. A practical way of assessing a patient’s stage of learning readiness is to ask how he or she views the health care problem and what he or she see are actions that could be taken.

By understanding more about what motivates people to change behavior and how to apply theories to patient teaching situations, you can be more successful as a patient teacher.