There are two kinds of questions we can use to help us understand what patients/clients want and need:

closed questions
open questions.

Closed questions

We use closed questions when we need a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer or confirmation of something. For instance:

‘Would you like an extra pillow?’
‘Can you tell me your address?’

Open questions

Open questions encourage the patient/client to speak in more depth about something. They are open because they invite the person to open up.

The best example of an open question in health care is: ‘How do you feel?’ The patient/client can respond briefly by saying ‘fine’, but if he or she says ‘not great’, or ‘awful’, it means we can begin to ask some more open questions to find out what is going on – ‘what do you feel is wrong?’ Asking one open question often leads to asking another.

Similarly, if the patient/client responds with ‘well, funnily, I’ve had quite a bit on my mind recently’, or some other indication that things aren’t quite right, we can begin to ask more open questions to help us identify the problem.

Listen to the audio clips to hear a good and poor example of questioning skills.

Example of good questioning

Good questioning skills transcript

Example of poor questioning

Poor questioning skills transcript