Using Patient Education Materials

Female doctor and patient looking at patient workbook.

Patient information extends your office visit beyond the few minutes you can spend face-to-face. You can increase compliance and cooperation even further by using patient education materials in ways that help patients learn and remember more of your advice.

How to choose print materials

Try to match the complexity and diversity of your patients with the educational materials you hand out. Overall suitability is the key. Try to select print materials that contain:

  • Clear focus and goals

  • Headings and illustrations that present key concepts for busy, scanning, or low-literacy readers

  • Step-by-step instructions

  • Practical tips to improve daily living

  • A language level that matches the bulk of your patients

  • Translations if your patient population warrants it

  • Up to date and produced by recognized experts or authorities—review the materials yourself from time to time

How to use materials

Patients are less likely to read a booklet if you hand it to them as they leave the office. Try to take a moment to open the material and invite their interest.

  • Highlight key concepts. To build informed consent, open the booklet or brochure and turn it to face the patient. Flip through, and circle or highlight the pages most critical for the patient to read. Write in any notes of your own, and point out any interactive space where a patient can write in the booklet.

  • Check a patient’s understanding. Ask your patients to repeat complex explanations back to you. Watch for signs of worry or confusion in your patient’s face or body language, and restate your instructions in simpler language if needed.

  • Involve a patient’s family. When patients are overwhelmed with difficult feelings, such as when dealing with a diagnosis of Alzheimer disease, suggest bringing in a support person to hear your instructions. Be sure the patient approves of this idea. This helps limit your need to repeat instructions and improves the support a patient receives at home.

  • Build on success. Increase compliance by building on skills a patient is confident in and motivated by. If a patient is excited that a low-fat diet is lowering her cholesterol, build on that success by explaining how exercise can lower cholesterol further.