Choosing Asthma Education Materials Wisely

Vol. 14 •Issue 6 • Page 17
Allergy & Asthma

Choosing Asthma Education Materials Wisely

An asthma educator’s primary goal is to get the patient to use the teaching materials you select. If the patient doesn’t see the relevance of the information you provide or doesn’t like that information, then all your education efforts potentially could be wasted.

How do you choose the most appropriate educational materials, and once chosen, how do you know that they’re the right ones? Let’s explore those questions.


Your educational materials should target your audience. Keep in mind your patients’ age and the setting where you’re encountering them.

For example, the pediatric patient in the emergency room will require a different education piece than the pediatric patient in a group education setting. Attempting to provide education at a time of high stress will result in very little information being retained.

Choose a very simple piece with clear follow-up instructions for the patient in the ER that can be read later during a quiet moment. For the patient in the group setting, you might choose a piece that speaks to triggers. If you encounter the patient on the unit during hospitalization, an education piece on triggers or medications — or both — might be most appropriate.

Or consider a school nurse who covers multiple facilities. She would need materials that other school personnel who deal with students’ day-to-day asthma issues could implement easily.

If your patient population is of childbearing age, do you have materials that deal with pregnancy? Many myths regarding asthma and pregnancy exist, especially as to what medication one may or may not take. Have the most current information readily available to answer your pregnant patient’s questions.

Regardless of whom or where you’re teaching, the foundation of your education program should be the National Institutes of Health’s asthma guidelines. Identifying the level of asthma severity and choosing materials appropriate for that level is critical to increasing patient compliance.

A brochure that identifies triggers in the home such as pets, dust and ruffled bedclothes might fit the mild persistent asthma patient. But for the patient with severe persistent asthma, you might want to consider something that assists the patient in early identification of an exacerbation such as a reduction in peak flow readings. Referring to the NIH guidelines to review severity levels can help you decide.


There are abundant examples as to the misinterpretation of instructions in patient education. Patients tend to remember selectively, and they may not remember the key points that you’re trying to convey. That’s why you must always provide written instructions at their reading level and in their primary language to avoid confusion.

For instance, a patient who’s instructed verbally to take a medication twice a day might interpret this as twice while he’s awake, while you meant for him to take it every 12 hours. Unless you specifically say every 12 hours and reinforce this with written instructions, the chances are high that he will take it as he believes is most appropriate for him.

If you don’t have access to materials that are in the patient’s primary language, then perhaps you can use pictures. Or, consider asking for an interpreter.

Often you may not realize it, but as the asthma educator you bring a level of knowledge to your view of the material that may make it appear ideal to you, but the patient may find it inappropriate. Look at a piece of patient education material that deals with a disease other than asthma that isn’t familiar to you. See if it makes sense to you and enhances your knowledge of that disease process. Putting yourself in the patient’s shoes always makes you a better educator.

Also, make certain that you’re comfortable with the materials. If you find them hard to use, your ability to assist the patient will be compromised.

Most educational materials are available in multiple formats, so your choice should be primarily based on what will result in the best response from your patient. Always provide printed material on each encounter with the addition of video and/or audio if available and appropriate. Interactive learning modules are becoming more common and may give your patient even more comprehensive instruction.

Financial considerations also may affect your choices, either because you have a tight budget or you need to charge the patient for some of the materials you wish to use. However, no matter how limited your finances are, free materials are available through various asthma organizations.

The information presented here isn’t intended to be all inclusive, but it’s a starting point for your search. The best educational materials should increase your patient’s knowledge of asthma and result in improved treatment compliance, a reduction in asthma exacerbations, and a maximum level of functioning.

Sheila Messina, RN, MA, CLNC, specializes in developing continuing education programs for health care providers. She’s also a certified legal nurse consultant and resides in San Jose, Calif.

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