Ask good assessment questions to get good answers

Patient assessment is an investigation process; good questions lead to good answers and better treatment


A good question will usually get a good answer. A bad question almost always gets a bad answer.

Surprised?

EMS instructors and training officers, try this patient assessment activity - one of my favorites - with your EMS students.

Facilitating the one question patient assessment activity with paramedic students. (Photo/Ginger Locke)
Facilitating the one question patient assessment activity with paramedic students. (Photo/Ginger Locke)

Think of an ailment or injury that you are suffering. It could be any non-visible ache, pain or concern. Allow each student to ask a single question one student at a time. Start on one side of the room and work your way around the room answering the students’ questions. Here are my guidelines for responding to questions. 

If you are asked a 'yes' or 'no' question (i.e. "Do you have any allergies?"), then answer, "Yes" or "No."

If you are asked the better question ("What are your allergies?"), then list your allergies.

A sharp class will then ask the logical follow-up questions about your allergies:

  • Have you been exposed to any of those allergens?
  • What happens when you are exposed?
  • What treatment do you need for your allergic reaction?

If a student asks you a SAMPLE or OPQRST question, answer just the question they are asking. Don't unspool your entire history all at once.

If a student attempts to ask a follow-up question or second question move to the next person. See if students will continue a thread of questions started by a classmate or begin a new thread of questions. 

Real patients answer 'yes' or 'no' questions with 'yes' or 'no' answers. Only students practicing assessment skills with one another answer, "Do you take any medications?" with a long list of medication names and doses.

In real life, good questions get good answers.

Got a good question? Use the comments area to ask.

I discussed this training activity with Ginger Locke, paramedic and host of the Medic Mindset podcast. Listen to our conversation about this activity and more. 

This article, originally published August 13, 2009, has been updated

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