The Value of Patient Education

As physical therapists, we all realize that patient education is potentially the most crucial part of the treatment process and our commitment to education is what sets us apart from other health professionals. However, many of us never stop to assess if we are doing our best as educators. Do our clients really understand and retain the knowledge we pass on to them? How often do we instruct our clients in exercises and yet they fail to remember them or perform them correctly after our time and effort spent on good instruction?

(image credit – Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education)

There are three main truths that explain why many of us to fail in delivering adequate education to our clients. Think about each one of these and how relevant it may be to you.


As therapists, we have two choices for effective communication to our clients – verbal or visual. Verbal instruction can be tedious and repetitive. After many years of practicing as a therapist, it can become boring and emotionally draining to repeat the same information over and over. Not to mention it is a time consuming venture.

As therapists, we also often underestimate our client’s ability to recall. We think they have “gotten our message”, when in fact it has gone right over their heads. How often have you instructed a client several times regarding how to perform an exercise, only to have them return next time stating, “When I got home, I totally forgot what you told me.” When we rely primarily on verbal communication, we often don’t deliver our information completely or accurately.

Visual material is the most effective way to reinforce our ideas and ensure proper recall of the exercises we want our clients to perform. Most of us will remember picture, images and colors longer than the spoken word. Remember the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Providing clients with visual handouts and clear exercise instructions is one of the best methods to make sure our information is understood and retained.


Our time is precious and our top priority is treating our clients. After all, that is what we were trained to do. It is often difficult to juggle enough time to treat, educate, instruct in exercise, teach self-help tools and answer all the questions clients throw at us. Something has to give, and unfortunately it is often the education of our clients that suffers.
Do you have clients who ask you; What are the best sleeping postures? What is the correct way to lift? How should they stretch? All these conversations take away precious clinic time yet taking the time to educate your clients in this manner is an important part of the treatment process. Having access to educational resources that explain these important self-management skills will save therapists time and effectively help us perform our job role as effective educators.


Unfortunately, resources for educational material, especially those specific to physical therapy, are either very limited or extremely costly and time consuming to apply in practice. There are very few handouts that “depict the things physical therapists want to say, in the way we want to say it”. So, we put up with old material and exercise sheets that have been copied and re-copied so many times they are faded, crooked and visually unappealing. Unfortunately, without realizing, such unprofessional looking sheets and handouts only serve to decrease the positive reputation and profile of our profession.

Now that we realize why we often fail at client education, let us stop for a moment and think about why client education is so important.

Education develops credibility. Effectively educating your patients supports your position as an expert, not only in the field of physical therapy in general, but in the specific area that is of greatest concern to your client. Education reveals you as the best resource and treatment option for your client’s problem.

Education develops trust. Patient education sends the message that you completely understand your client’s condition and what it takes to make them feel better. Educational material from a trusted health professional is valued more than similar information obtained from a magazine, book or internet. Education will have your clients quoting you to their friends and family.

Education increases understanding. Patients who are educated will have a greater understanding of their condition and treatment, and will be better equipped to take an active part in the treatment process. Education will improve your patient’s treatment outcomes.

Education improves compliancy. When a client is discharged from your care they will be greatly influenced by the educational material they receive from you. If the material impresses them by being informative and professional in appearance, they will be left with a positive reaction to your overall treatment process. Satisfied customers are not only the ones who will return to you in the future but are also the ones who will spread the word about how great you are!

Spending the time to research quality education information and budgeting for these resources will reward you many times over both in terms of saving you treatment time and in raising level of client satisfaction.

This article was been submitted by Teresa Buchinski Physiotherapist – leading the way in quality patient education handouts.

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