Skip main navigation

Tailoring medical information to your patient’s needs

Adapting medical information flexibly to the needs and level of understanding of a patient is a necessary skill of a health professional.
clipboard with the drawing of a spinal cord
© Joyce McCown on Unsplash

One aspect of the findings of the systematic review (Jager et al 2019) is that patients want information that is aligned to their needs, tailored to themselves and their own situation. This is a core component of person-centred care explored in Week 2. This requires the health professional to have communication skills that are flexible and adaptable and can be tailored to each patient, as each person and their situation is unique.

There are three broad areas of patient differences. These are:

  • Individual differences
  • Contextual differences
  • Differences in past experience of healthcare

Individual differences

Patients differ from each other in many ways, one example being their beliefs about health. Health beliefs are what people believe about their health, what they think constitutes their health, what they consider the cause of their illness is, and ways to overcome an illness. A patient may for instance prefer alternative medicine (e.g. homeopathy, acupuncture) and therefore not be as open to so-called “Western medicine” types of treatment or care.

Contextual differences

The context or environment that encompasses a patient largely determines their perspectives on health and illness, for example through social norms. Some patients may for instance perceive 2-3 glasses of wine per day as a societally acceptable (and healthy) level of alcohol intake (as more prevalent in in Mediterranean or East-European countries), while other patients from other contexts would perceive these levels as excessive.

Differences in past experience of healthcare

Dependent on past experiences with the health system, some patients may act and behave accordingly. For example, if a patient has been treated in a very paternalistic way by the treating health professional in the past, the patient may be hesitant to openly ask questions, request more information, or be confident to share feelings and experiences.

One way to adapt and respond to each patient as an individual, meeting their specific needs is to encourage patients to ask questions.

Do you know of other examples belonging to one of these three broad areas? Please share in the discussion section.

Jager, M., de Zeeuw, J., Tullius, J., Papa, R., Giammarchi, C., Whittal, A., & de Winter, A. F. (2019). Patient Perspectives to Inform a Health Literacy Educational Program: A Systematic Review and Thematic Synthesis of Qualitative Studies. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(21), 4300.

© IMPACCT consortium
This article is from the free online

Working with Patients with Limited Health Literacy

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now