AAFP Core Educational Guidelines : Patient Education

Date: Oct 1, 2000


This document has been endorsed by the American Academy of Family Physicians and was developed in cooperation with the Association of Departments of Family Medicine, the Association of Family Practice Residency Directors and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.

Patient education can be defined as the process of influencing patient behavior and producing the changes in knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to maintain or improve health. The Latin origin of the word doctor, "docere," means "to teach," and the education of patients and their families, as well as communities, is the responsibility of all physicians. Family physicians are uniquely suited to take a leadership role in patient education. Family physicians build long-term, trusting relationships with patients, providing opportunities to encourage and reinforce changes in health behavior. Patient education is, therefore, an essential component of residency training for family physicians.

Patient education is critically important because it is clear that the leading causes of death in the United States (i.e., heart disease, cancer, stroke, lung disease and injuries) are closely associated with unhealthy lifestyles. There is also strong evidence to suggest that counseling and patient education provide substantial benefits. Providing patients with complete and current information helps create an atmosphere of trust, enhances the doctor-patient relationship and empowers patients to participate in their own health care. Effective patient education also ensures that patients have sufficient information and understanding to make informed decisions regarding their care.

To provide effective patient education, a variety of practical skills must be mastered. These include ascertaining patients' educational needs, identifying barriers to learning, counseling concisely, evaluating and utilizing written, audiovisual and computer-based patient education materials, and incorporating education into routine office visits.

Patient education should be taught longitudinally throughout all 36 months of family practice residency. In addition to didactic hours on patient education, opportunities should be made available for residents to attend patient education conferences and to participate in community education projects.


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