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Patient Education Materials: A Little Planning and Research Can Go a Long Way

Developing patient education materials that are both engaging and effective is not always easy. It requires a lot of planning, and attention to detail. It also requires time to understand exactly who you want to reach, how you can best get their attention, and how you might be able to get them to change their behavior. There are various processes for developing patient education materials, depending on budget and time constraints, but there are some best practices that can help deliver a product that is well received.

When Possible, Do Your Research

In health education, it’s not usually recommended that you develop materials to reach broad groups of people – such as women in the U.S. or the entire U.S. population. Many segments of the population have diverse experiences, languages, beliefs, and challenges, across a variety of ethnicities, genders, geographic regions, etc. One piece of educational material will usually not effectively speak to all people.

That’s why it’s best to tailor your materials for a specific audience as much as possible, and the best way to determine who you need to reach is through research. However, in communications, there is not always room in the budget for this. Luckily, secondary research or a simple literature review can provide enough information to find out who your message needs to reach.

Know Your Target Audience

This may seem obvious, but it’s clearly the most critical component in creating patient education materials. The more tailored a message is aiming for a specific audience, the more effective it will be. But the first step in understanding your audience is defining who they are. What language do they speak? What may be some cultural or economic barriers that will prevent them from receiving your message? And how should you address these variables in your materials?

It’s important to always remember that the people you are targeting must feel that they are represented in the materials in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. This is crucial to assuring that your audience connects and engages with the content.

Test Your Materials

One of the most helpful tools in creating educational materials is pilot testing with your target audience. This can be done through focus groups with your target audience or even something as simple as creating an advisory group of experts to review and provide their input can be helpful. Receiving feedback allows you to make changes and address potential communications issues you had not previously identified. Doing this ensures the materials will connect with your target audience and incorporate the most effective communications strategies.

Keep it Simple

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 43% of Americans can only read at a “basic” or “below basic” level. When it comes to communicating health information, this is particularly critical. People can often misunderstand even simple terms that we are accustomed to hearing every day, so, it’s important to pay close attention to your choice of words, to ensure things are communicated as clearly and simply as possible. This is why the current recommendation from health education specialists is to create materials aimed at a 6th grade reading level.

While incorporating these elements into health education material development process can become time-consuming (and sometimes costly), they will help ensure that your materials will achieve the broadest and deepest impact.

About the Author: Kathleen Petty is a Senior Account Executive at The Reis Group. She provides overall support for the day-to-day management of clients and leverages her strong writing and agency communication experience to bring ideas into action. Read more from Kathleen here.

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