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Teach-back patient communication tool improves health outcomes

Research 12 Jun 2018
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A consultation with a GP or any other health professional is meant to not only help a woman's health, but also help them to better understand what is going on, and what part they can play in their own care.

Unfortunately, all too often a woman can come away from the visit without getting what she needs. There may be questions not asked, or answers not heard, understood, or remembered. However, a recent review of several studies has shown that use of a simple communication tool can develop better health knowledge, skills and self-care abilities among patients with chronic disease. The tool is called 'teach-back'.

Teach-back, quite simply, involves a healthcare provider asking a patient to explain, in her own words, what she's just been told. The provider can then work with the patient to clarify any misunderstandings. Teach-back can help safeguard both patients and healthcare professionals from misunderstandings and missed information during a consultation.

The review, published in the University of Adelaide's JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, examined studies testing the effectiveness of the teach-back method in health education programs for people with chronic illness. Four studies confirmed improved disease-specific knowledge for patients using teach-back, while another study showed a significant improvement in the ability of patients with type 2 diabetes to follow medication and diet instructions.

The review of the teach-back tool reinforces how 'health literacy' – the skills, characteristics and social resources needed to access understand and use information to make decisions about health can improve health outcomes.

"Helping patients to understand, remember and act on important health information – whatever their situation – means better management of their health," says University of Melbourne Senior Research Fellow Dr Alison Beauchamp. "This review focuses on chronic disease management, but teach-back has had a positive impact across a wide rand of health conditions."

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Dr Beauchamp was recently awarded an NHMRC Medical Research Future Fund TRIP Fellowship to evaluate the use of teach-back – already widely used in the United States – in Australian healthcare settings. She says that vulnerable and disadvantaged populations in Australia carry a greater burden of chronic disease, including higher rates of mortality, morbidity and unplanned hospital readmissions and that the establishment of clear, two-way communication between patient and healthcare provider was crucial in the fair delivery of healthcare.

"We know that up to 80% of healthcare information is forgotten immediately," says Dr Beauchamp. "Teach-back is effective because it provides an opportunity for the patient to really take in the key information and clarify any points before the end of the consultation."

"As the burden of chronic disease increases in Australia, the ability for patients to understand and interpret health information – and become advocates of their own health – will be paramount to advancing the health of our nation."

For more information on teach-back, go to