If you’re working in the health care arena, you need to make the time you have with your patient/client count. That’s often hard to do if you have a tight schedule that doesn’t allow you to spend as much time as you’d like with patients. To make up for lost face time many health care providers give their patient/client a brochure or flier that covers the issue they’re presenting. However, despite the best of intentions, relying solely on this practice can result in misunderstanding and confusion for the patient.
This article explores the challenges of health care materials development, presentation and evaluation. It not only illustrates the most common mistakes encountered, it provides solutions. When you have only a few moments to deliver a message, the tools you give your patients have to be effective.
Diagnosing and Treating an Ailing Educational Tool
An educational tool, much like an illness, has signs and symptoms. A “healthy” educational tool is made up of the 3 E’s:
Effortless to read
Easy to comprehend
Conversely, the signs and symptoms of an educational tool that isn’t faring so well reflect the 3 P’s:
Painful to read
Problematic to comprehend
Ultimately, a patient should be able pick up the brochure and immediately apply it to the information you presented to them. It’s not meant as a substitute for a solid group class or one-to-one educational moments. Rather, a supplement should direct a patient to where they can go for more information on their health issue.
The good news is that like many types of illnesses, the diagnosis and treatment plan is relatively simple. Let’s break down the three most significant brochure issues and immediately follow up with a solution for improving it.
(1) Message Flow
Diagnosis: Poor Flow. No one wants to read a brochure that jumps around. For a patient, flow is important because it connects information from a previous point and serves as a link to the next educational point. If a brochure jumps from one topic over to one that isn’t related to it, or fails to make connections between related points, the message is lost.
Treatment: Fix the flow. You need to organize your brochure in a way that makes sense so your patients can make informed health decisions. A healthy brochure will: define the condition and how it’s diagnosed, describe the symptoms, identify where to go for more information, and provide patients with health care resources. This follows a natural flow of information exchange.
(2) Readability and Organization
Diagnosis: Painful to read. When you pick up an informational brochure for a medication, it’s usually in a small font, crammed together and with little white space—making it difficult to read. Most likely, you won’t even try to read the small print—meaning you don’t get the crucial information you need.
Treatment: Make the brochure effortless to read. Use an easy-to-read font, ample white space and highlight the most important information. Remember the brochure is a supplement meant to give the patient information or more detail on things you cover with them. You want it to be something they keep and use as a reference.
This means you need to know what you want to convey. When I create brochures I try to focus on three key pieces of information I want to share with my patients and organize the text around those. A good way to present them is to use bullet points. Bullet points enable you to draw attention to and organize your main points in an easy-to-read way.
Another trick to making your brochure easier to read is with judicious use of fonts and colors. Different sizes and types of fonts can help offset areas when there is not enough white space. Colors can help draw out, emphasize and focus the eyes to information that might get lost in a crowded section. However, having too many colors, font types and font sizes can have the opposite effect and confuse your patient further.
Diagnosis: Comprehension Problems. If you’re working with a population that has low literacy and comprehension skills, or the health information you’re presenting is complicated, you need to produce an educational tool that can empower and engage. When your reader cannot understand what you’re presenting to them, your tool is useless. Complicated vocabulary, small font size, inappropriate use of tables and long sentences can make the brochure challenging to read. You will need to find a balance that can create a comfortable level of reading and understanding.
Treatment: Strike a Balance. First, you need to know your audience. In creating your outline, write out a description of your target population. What does your reader look like? What is their typical education level? Is English their first language? Do they have trouble with literacy? You need to know who you are targeting so you can ensure the message is created in a way that’s most appropriate for the reader. That includes using appropriate imagery (ideally reflecting your readership) to accompany or illustrate some of the copy.
Next, compose your message and run a literacy level check. (Most Microsoft® Word packages have a literacy level checker in the Review tab.) Aim for a level between fourth and sixth grade.
Lastly, field test your brochure with your audience. Give your brochure to several of your patients and ask them what they think. Do they understand the message? Are they able to take away the important messages and apply them to their circumstances? Is the brochure easy to read? Is it attractive and culturally appropriate? Once you receive their responses, you can make necessary revisions and field test it again on a larger audience. Once you’re satisfied with the changes, start making your tool available to all of your patients.
A healthy educational tool can be a solid complement to any educational/clinical encounter you have. Remember, if the message you’re trying to convey isn’t getting through, go back and check for the 3 E’s: Excellent flow, Effortless to read and Easy to comprehend. Once you diagnose the problem, incorporate some of the ideas from the suggested treatments.
Be sure to explore online resources to learn more about how to develop useful health materials. Two best practice websites include: The Society for Public Health Education and the Institute for Health Care Advancement. You work hard to make your patients healthy. A great educational tool can be the difference between getting appropriate care and making a preventable visit to the local emergency room.