4.2.4 Asking questions

Asking questions appropriately is an important technique that can help to:

  • identify what is already known and reveal any information gaps;
  • identify specific needs;
  • explore the attitudes and beliefs of a patient;
  • generate discussions and options for problem-solving;
  • help to understand the reasons behind decisions or actions

An understanding of a patient’s existing knowledge about TB and its treatment is important before giving further information. In this situation, asking questions is important. A balance between “closed” and “open” questions can help to collect the necessary information in a short time.

A closed question is one to which the only answer is “Yes” or “No”. Some examples are: Do you have a cough? Do you have fever? The trouble with using closed questions is that “Yes” or “No” often does not describe fully what the person wants to say.

That is where the “open” question has value. This type of technique lets people describe their experience in their own words. Open questions are short and suggest no specific answer. They begin with words like “What”, “Why”, “How” and are very short. Some examples are: How do you feel after you take your medicines? Why do you have trouble taking your medicines every day?

Ideally, a problem should be explored with open-ended questions and then closed-ended questions should be asked in order to complete the information. Sometimes, however, people may go into unnecessary details and health-care providers need to maintain some control over the interaction by gently moving on.

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