How good are we at patient education?

It comes as no surprise to any health professional that one of the most important, time consuming and arguably, the most rewarding aspects of our practice is providing ‘advice and education’. This includes discussing patients concerns, teaching skills and in many cases re-educating unhelpful beliefs and behaviours. The World Health Organisation has brought patient-centred education to the fore, highlighting the need for adequate training of health professionals in communication skills that elicit the patient’s point of view, concerns and needs and provides professionals with the skills to support and promote patient self-management (World Health Organisation, 2005).

What I found very quickly into my journey to undertake a PhD in the area of patient education is that it’s one of those things we all do, think we do fairly well, but no one really discusses how we do it or how it looks when it’s effective. Furthermore, as a University lecturer and clinical educator, it was apparent how we often expect students to demonstrate patient education in examinations and with patients, however we often don’t give the time, practice or theoretical underpinnings for them to become effective educators. We often pride ourselves on our ability teach patients, whether it be teaching exercises or skills, explaining a diagnosis or giving specific advice and information and we often consider these skills to come naturally with experience (Rindflesch, 2009). Research however suggests similar levels of patient education competence between novice and experienced clinicians (Wouda & van de Wiel, 2015; Forbes et al, 2017). A major reason for this is health professionals receive minimal training in patient education including appropriate pedagogical approaches to learning (Dandavino et al, 2007; Svavarsdottir et al, 2015) and ongoing professional development activities are rarely aimed at patient education skills (Friberg et al, 2012; Bergh et al, 2014).

My PhD in patient education focussed on physiotherapy practice and aimed to understand how physiotherapists’ use patient education. I also wanted to understand what physiotherapists should be able to do in relation to patient education practice and ultimately, find effective ways in which we can teach these skills to physiotherapy students and professionals. My PhD journey firstly uncovered that early research suggests as physiotherapists (and wider health professionals) we are fairly therapist-centred when it comes to providing patient education and our approaches tend to be didactic and not centred on the patients expectations (Kerssens et al, 1999; Trede, 2000; Dierckx et al, 2013; Bergh et al, 2014). Given the emphasis on a patient-centred approach to education, tailoring teaching to the needs of the patient becomes an imperative (Friedman et al, 2011) and has been recognised by both health professionals and patients as the most important characteristic of an effective educator (Hyrkas et al, 2014; Forbes et al, 2018). Focussing education on patients’ needs and preferences have demonstrated positive effects such as improving patient motivation, self-efficacy, recall, adherence and health outcomes (Hoving et al, 2010).

Assessing the learning needs of the patient

Just as assessment is the crucial first step in understanding the physical needs of the patient; it is considered an important initial stage in determining learning needs (Smith et al, 2007; Friedman et al, 2011; Fredericks & Yau, 2017). Furthermore, clinicians who are unaware of their patients’ educational needs and readiness to learn have the potential to inadvertently contribute to poor outcomes such as ongoing symptoms, patient passivity and increasingly complex treatment regimens (Needleman, 2013).

Assessing the educational needs of the patient may include:

  • Patient generated goal setting
  • Actively seeking out the patients main concerns
  • Exploring patients existing knowledge, perceptions or beliefs about their condition
  • Understanding what the patient has been told before – and how they have interpreted this information
  • Assessing the ability of the patient to undertake physical tasks or skills
  • Seeking from the patient their expectations relating to the physiotherapy treatment, including their expectations of their own role


Evaluation is considered the last phase of effective patient education to appraise patient learning and progress the educational process (Frank-Bader et al 2011; Friberg et al, 2012), however it receives little attention in health professional teaching and training (Forbes et al, 2017). The teach-back approach offers not only an approach that checks for lapses in recall and understanding but can also uncover health beliefs, reinforce and tailor health messages and generate dialogue between patient and health professional and allows the educator to identify and correct any misunderstandings. There is significant support of the use of the teach-back approach in patient education literature (Crumlish & Magel, 2011; Frank-Bader et al 2011; Friberg et al, 2012). Research demonstrates that this approach improves patient recall, understanding and self-recognition of health emergencies (Schillinger et al, 2003; Kripilani, 2008).

Other explicit evaluation approaches may include:

  • Observation
  • Seeking return demonstrations
  • Communicating with patients’ family or other health care providers to seek patient progress
  • Assessing wider patient skills such as problem solving
  • Providing the patient with a hypothetical challenge to assess their course of action

Future of patient education

Over the last five years there has been increasing evidence to support patient education approaches in specific populations who seek musculoskeletal physiotherapy care. With cost containment studies showing significant savings and lowering of health care costs through primary prevention efforts, we should anticipate increased recognition of patient education efforts, particularly those aimed at patient self-management and health promotion. Health professionals currently have more access to formal training in patient education techniques, such as counselling, therapeutic neuroscience education and motivational interviewing. We also have increasing access to inter-professional networks, peer observational activities and mentoring, and internet based professional development resources, all of which are recognised as effective approaches in the development of patient education expertise.

In light of the need for patient-centred education skills of physiotherapists, it should be recognised that we must provide physiotherapists with the means to effectively incorporate these skills into physiotherapy practice. The importance of such practice for patient outcomes, decision making and patient and clinician satisfaction indicates the need for training providers, clinical education providers and workplaces to recognise the value of training and place emphasis on this area of practice.

Please click to link to full article: A comparison of patient education practices and perceptions of novice and experienced physiotherapists in Australian physiotherapy settings.

Roma forbes

Dr Roma Forbes, PhD, BHSc (Physio), MHSc (Musculoskeletal, 1st Hons), GradCert (Higher Ed), APAM, NZSP

Roma is a Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist and Lecturer at The University of Queensland where she teach Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy. Her PhD is in patient education practice in physiotherapy and her current research investigates new-graduate readiness for practice and the use of simulation in enhancing patient-centred skills.


Bergh, A.L., Persson, E., Karlsson, J. & Friberg, F. (2014). Registered nurses’ perceptions of conditions for patient education–focusing on aspects of competence. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 28(3), 523-536.

Crumlish, C.M. & Magel, C.T. (2011). Patient education on heart attack response: Is rehearsal the critical factor in knowledge retention. Medsurg Nursing, 20(6), 310-317.

Dandavino, M., Snell, L. & Wiseman, J. (2007). Why medical students should learn how to teach. Medical Teacher, 29(6), 558-565

Dierckx, K., Deveugele, M., Roosen, P. & devisch, I. (2013). Implementation of shared decision making in physical therapy: observed level of involvement and patient preference. Physical Therapy, 93(10), 1321-1330.

Forbes, R., Mandrusiak, A., Smith, M. & Russell, T. Training physiotherapy students to educate patients; a randomised controlled trial. Patient Education and Counselin, 101(2), 295-303

Forbes, R., Mandrusiak, A., Smith, M., & Russell, T. A comparison of patient education practices of novice and experienced physiotherapists in Australia. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice, 28; 46-53, 2017.

Frank-Bader, M., Beltran, K. & Dojlidko, D. (2011). Improving transplant discharge education using a structured teaching approach. Progress in Transplantation, 21(4), 332-339.

Friberg, F., Granum, V. & Bergh, A.L. (2012). Nurses’ patient-education work: conditional factors; an integrative review. Journal of Nursing Management, 20(2), 170-186.

Hoving, C., Visser, A., Mullen, P.D. & van den Borne, B. (2010). A history of patient education by health professionals in Europe and North America: from authority to shared decision making education. Patient Education and Counseling, 78 (3), 275-281.

Hyrkas, K. & Wiggins, M. (2014). A comparison of usual care, a patient‐centred education intervention and motivational interviewing to improve medication adherence and readmissions of adults in an acute‐care setting. Journal of Nursing Management, 22(3), 350-361.

Kerssens, J.J., Sluijs, E.M., Verhaak, P.F., Knibbe, H.J. & Hermans, I.M. (1999). Bac care instructions in physical therapy: a trend analysis of individualized back care programs. Physical Therapy, 79(3), 286-295.

Kripilani, S., LeFevre, F., Phillips, C., Williams, M., Basaviah. P. & Baker, D. (2008) Deficits in communication and information transfer between hosptial-based and primary care physicians. Journal of Americal Medical Association, 297, 831-841

Needleman, J. (2013). Increasing acuity, increasing technology, and the changing demands on nurses. Nursing Economics, 31(4), 200-202.

Rindflesch, A B. (2009). A grounded-theory investigation of patient education in physical therapy practice. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 25(3), 193-202.

Schillinger, D.,Piette, J., grumbach, K., Wang, F., Wilson, C., Daher, C., Leong-Grotz, K., Castro, C. & Bindman, A.B. (2003). Closing the loop: physician communication with diabetic patients who have low health literacy. Archives of Internal Medicine, 163(1), 83-90.

Smith, S., Mitchell, C. & Bowler, S. (2007). Patient-centered education: applying learner-centered concepts to asthma education. Journal of Asthma, 44(10), 799-804.

Svavarsdottir, M.H., Sigueoardottir, A.K. & Steinsbekk, A. (2015). How to become an expert educator: a qualitative study on the view of health professionals with experience in patient education. Bio Med Central Medical Education, 15(1), 1-9.

Trede, F.V. (2000). Physiotherapists’ approaches to low back pain education. Physiotherapy, 86(8), 427-433.

World Health Organisation. (2005). Preparing a health care workforce for the 21st century: the challenge of chronic conditions. Geneva, Switzerland.

Wouda, J.C. & van de Wiel, H.B. (2015). Supervisors’ and residents’ patient-education competency in challenging outpatient consultations. Patient Education and Counseling, 98(9), 1084-1091.


Publisher’s Note

We wish to inform all of our authors, readers and colleagues, that the journal will change its name from the first volume of 2017 to Musculoskeletal Science & Practice: an international journal of musculoskeletal physiotherapy.

We are keen to make colleagues aware that the journal will continue to be published by Elsevier, and the Aims & Scope of the journal will not change. Current Editors, Ann Moore CBE and Gwen Jull AO will continue to lead a team of Associate Editors, and we are delighted to remain engaged with our Editorial Committee, Advisory Board and our international review panel.

We continue to welcome Original Research and Review articles, Professional Issues and Technical & Measurement Reports, and to invite Masterclasses, that contribute to improving the clinical understanding of appropriate care processes for musculoskeletal disorders. We will continue to publish articles that influence or add to the body of evidence on assessment, diagnosis, clinical reasoning and interventions.

The new title has been chosen to better reflect current practice, education and research in the field of musculoskeletal physiotherapy worldwide and to ensure that the journal continues to be a leading publication in the field.

These are exciting times for the journal, which “turned 21” in 2016. By the end of the year we forecast double digit growth in manuscript submissions, with papers from authors in more than 30 countries worldwide being submitted for consideration of publication.

The journal also moved this year to an article based publishing workflow which has provided our authors with faster publication times, on average under 2 weeks post acceptance – subject to the timely return of author proofs. The journal continues to be read around the world in over 90 countries and with excess of 21,000 web hits each month. This means authors can be assured that their research is disseminated to a wide international readership in a competitive timeframe.

We also continue to welcome authors who wish to publish their research Open Access and further information about access options (Green and Gold Open) can be found on both the journal’s website at and the Publisher’s website at

We are delighted to now also offer authors the opportunity to add a 5-minute Audio Slide presentation, in the form of a narrated powerpoint, to their published articles – examples of which can be seen on the journal website. This enables authors to discuss their article “in their own words”. Alongside this, we also support authors in sharing their research through social media by enabling a customised “ShareLink” which authors can use in social media channels and which will provide 50-days free access to the final published version of their article on ScienceDirect.

Talking of social media, we are thrilled by the support and feedback we have received to date for the name change following our announcement on Twitter @MSKPhysioJnl We would like to extend our thanks to all those organisations, listed on the journal page (and especially the Musculoskeletal Association of Chartered Physiotherapists and the Dutch Association for Manual Therapy), who continue to support us in this transition period. We wish to thank all of our team members, reviewers, authors, readers and colleagues. We also look forward to welcoming new authors and readers to the journal in the coming months.

If you would like to become involved with the journal, as a member of our international review panel you may apply to do so through – we would be delighted to hear from you.

We are very much looking forward to 2017



As you will have noticed, the New Year (2017) has bought a new era in the life of this Journal with a change in name. Manual Therapy was first published in July 1995. Its name represented a contemporary term for the scope and practice of manipulative therapy and to some extent an emphasis in practice at the time, as reflected in the name of the seminal text, “Grieve’s Modern Manual Therapy –The vertebral column”. The year 2016 marked the 21st year of publication of Manual Therapy and the Editorial Board considered that this marked a time for a change in the title.

As you will have noticed, Volume 27 (February), the first issue of the new year, launched the new journal title “Musculoskeletal Science and Practice: an International Journal of Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy”.

Why change the Journal’s name? The title ‘Manual Therapy’ certainly had its place in history but it no longer adequately serves our readers’ and authors’ needs. The new title better reflects contemporary practice, education and research in the field of musculoskeletal physiotherapy worldwide. This ensures that the journal can continue to be a leading publication in the field.

The new name certainly reflects the range of manuscripts that, in fact, have historically been submitted to and published in the journal. Over the last 20 years, there has been a transformation in research and practice driven by a rapid growth in knowledge in all of the basic, behavioural and clinical sciences; the adoption of the biopsychosocial model for the management of people with musculoskeletal disorders; and an emphasis on patient centred management. The journal has always aimed to inform musculoskeletal physiotherapists, practising around the world, and from the outset has accepted a broad scope of manuscripts relevant to understanding and implementing best practice care to persons with musculoskeletal disorders. The title of Manual Therapy did not reflect the scope of musculoskeletal practice and the time had come for a journal name change. The new journal title “Musculoskeletal Science and Practice: an International Journal of Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy” better reflects current practice, education and research in the very broad and diverse field of musculoskeletal physiotherapy worldwide.

The aims and scope of the journal have not, and will not, change. They have for many years aligned the needs of the communities we serve, but had slowly fallen out of alignment with the Journal’s title. With the new name, the journey is complete …. or should we say, the next adventure is just starting!

We would like to take this opportunity to also recognise one of our longest standing Editorial team members – Jeff Boyling retired from the Editorial Board at the end of 2016. He was an inaugural member of the Board and is warmly thanked for his valuable contribution and support of the journal over 21 years. Jeff will now join our Editorial Advisory Board and therefore will still be very much part of the Journal.

You will have seen a Publisher’s Note in Volume 27 (February) by Sarah Davies, the Senior Publisher from Elsevier which introduced these changes, in addition to the introduction of a new publishing system – article based publishing – which is providing all of our authors with faster publication times. She also provided an update on the journal’s performance and our Twitter account – @MSKPhysioJnl – so you can follow us and find out the latest articles hot off the press, as well as details of forthcoming special issues and news from both the journal and publisher – and we’d like to hear back from you also!

Welcome to this new era for the journal and welcome to Musculoskeletal Science and Practice, and thank you for your continuing support.