An educated patient is a good patient. High-quality patient education materials increase patient compliance, save doctors time explaining routine procedures and answering common questions, and can even improve your practice’s reputation and referrals. But providing patients with good health information is not easy. Many patients have trouble understanding medical terms and clinical concepts that are second-nature to healthcare providers. Some patients absorb information better in visual form than in written or oral form. And doctors also need to consider if and how their patient education materials can be accessed and shared with family or other people involved in patients’ care.

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), some 90 million American adults — about 47 percent of the U.S. population — demonstrate low levels of literacy. The most recent NAAL survey included a health literacy component, the first-ever national assessment designed specifically to measure adults’ ability to read and understand health-related information. The majority of adults (53 percent) were found to have “intermediate” health literacy. About 22 percent had “basic” and 14 percent had “below basic” health literacy. Clearly, making sure education materials are provided in a way that is easy for patients to understand is an important element of a successful patient education program. Here are some other factors to consider:

1. Targeting your patient demographic.

To make sure your patient education materials are understood by as many people as possible, you need to understand your target audience and tailor your materials to them. Beyond the medical facts, think about how people will respond to the information. Most people won’t pay attention to something unless they feel it’s relevant and important to them. You might consider the age of your patients, for example. Are they mostly adolescents or elderly? Are they more likely to read a brochure or watch a video? Do your materials feature pictures of people who look like them?

2. Your use of technology, or lack thereof.

“We physicians often think that we have explained a pathology or treatment very clearly, and inevitably, there will be patients that did not understand or ask questions,” writes Marguerite B. McDonald, MD, in her Ophthalmology Times piece, “Patient education key to dry eye disease compliance.” She explains that her practice invested in animated patient education software to help explain complex, abstract concepts using images and animation along with easy-to-understand language that is not overly technical, which saves the doctors time. “When we sit down to talk with patients about their pathology, they already understand the anatomy of the eye, the disease pathology, and some of the treatment options,” she writes.

Though for years physicians have walked patients through printed materials, Dr. McDonald says, “we have found the higher-tech options to be a great option that lends our practice an image of advanced technology” while increasing patients’ understanding and compliance.

3. The “share-ability” of your materials.

Will patients take home a brochure and tell their families or caregivers what they learned at the doctor’s office? Perhaps. Will that information be translated as accurately as you’d like? Probably not. If the patient sets the brochure aside for a few days and comes back to it, will he remember why it’s relevant and what steps he needs to take next? Not likely.

Successful patient education materials are easy to access after the appointment and easy to share with others. Patients may need to take in the information several times before they fully understand it, or they made need a refresher a few weeks or months after their appointment. Some doctors place video clips explaining conditions and procedures on their web sites, or email them to patients directly.

Knowing that high-quality, easy-to-understand information from their doctor is a click away keeps patients from Googling their condition and having to wade through the mixed — or even incorrect — results on their own.

Access to medical information is not the same thing as interpreting, understanding – and most importantly, complying with – quality information and recommendations specific to a patient’s condition. And isn’t that what successful patient education is all about?

To find out more about providing patient education materials that get results, or to learn about the full benefits of Rendia, our internet-based patient education platform, contact us today.