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7 Elements of Effective Patient Education Materials that Drive Action

Whether you're selecting new patient education materials or evaluating your existing programs, judging patient materials is no easy task. However, creating a list of essential characteristics can make things a little easier to tackle.

But what’s supposed to be on that list?

Well, you’re in luck! We’ve collected the 7 most important elements of effective patient education materials to consider during your assessments. If you check all 7 off the list, you can feel confident the materials will motivate your patients to take action for their health.

Let’s dive in.
hiking trail

1. Accurate

Of course, the first entry on your list should be medical accuracy. False information can be even more harmful than no information. Patients need medically accurate information that will help them navigate their care and the many decisions throughout their journey.

2. Trusted

With accuracy also comes a level of trust. If patients don’t trust the source, they won’t give the information much thought or attention. If the content feels biased, pushy, or influenced, patients will not only lose trust in the information but could also transfer that lack of trust onto the provider of the materials.

But the reverse is also very true! You can build trust in your own brand by providing excellent patient education materials that genuinely “get” the patient perspective, while simultaneously instilling confidence in your organization and the messages.

changing leaves

3. Up to Date

Have you thought about how well your patient materials will stand up over time? Do you know how often they need to be reviewed and updated?

Keeping content up to date can be a big undertaking that is often avoided, forgotten, or not planned for. Who really wants to go through the hassle of making adjustments, purchasing more, and organizing inventory every couple of months? It’s a lot to deal with.

It’s much easier to choose materials that accomplish your goals but don’t constantly need to be updated with every minor change. So, consider using your educational materials to build the basic understanding of the medical topics, and leave the details of the patient’s specific case for their provider to discuss.

4. Understandable

Judging how understandable content will be for a patient can be difficult. It requires you as a healthcare professional to ignore years of training and experience and put yourself in the patient’s shoes.

With your vast knowledge of medicine, it’s common to feel like so much information is left out, causing you to wonder if the materials will even be helpful. But have you ever tried to read a scientific article in a foreign language? That’s how many patients feel when consuming complex disease information. Honestly, it will take a lot of time with your target audience before you’ll be able to appropriately judge whether the education is too simple.

So, when in doubt, ask some of your patients to take a look and let you know what they think.

Make sure to ask a variety of patients with varying health literacy skills and backgrounds. This feedback will not only help you evaluate the specific materials but also help you better understand your consumers.

talking on park bench

Tip: Keep in mind, understandable content is more than just having the appropriate reading level. Check out Why the Reading Level Isn’t Everything to find out why.

5. Engaging

We live in a world filled with distractions. Add on a confusing, terrifying medical diagnosis, and it’s even harder to focus; patients' thoughts are bound to wander from what’s going on and what’s next to the scary what-ifs. For patient education to be effective, we need to make it easy for patients to stay focused on the information and away from frightening thoughts.

Not sure how to evaluate whether content will be engaging? See if it has any of these characteristics:
  • Visuals
  • Emotions
  • Stories
  • Comparisons
  • Brief and simple

6. Purposeful

Developing successful patient education requires purposeful thought. Every element, sentence, image, color should have a reason for being there. From the words on the page to the teaching techniques, all components should serve a purpose.

hodgkin lymphoma booklet take home notes

For example, did you know there are many learning and teaching tools that can help boost the comprehension of information and simplify the more complex concepts? We aren’t referring to diagrams of the body or huge tables. We are talking about the little things—relatable stories, simple definitions, pronunciations, and summaries.

The most critical qualifying question for everything included in patient materials is, “How will this help the patient?”

7. Compassionate

Compassion is probably not something you think of when considering patient education. However, compassionate care can have significant impacts in the healthcare setting. Surprised? Well, there’s actually a lot of research devoted to the effects of compassion on patients.

For example, compassion can reduce stress, anxiety, pain, and blood pressure. Moreover, compassion can increase satisfaction and survival rates, while building a connection with the source.1,2,3,4

Yet, empathy and compassion are often overlooked in patient materials. Like other emotions, empathy and compassion can be expressed through writing.

Providing compassionate patient education allows you to build a connection with your patients and, ultimately, empower them to take action.
woman reading on hammock

Putting It All Together

At Leveling Health, we put all these elements together in our understandable, engaging, and purposeful patient education materials. Our team of experts knows the ins and out of communications and education best practices, as well as the medical knowledge to ensure accuracy and trust.

With years of experience, we create patient education materials that build connections and drive health consumers to take action.

Experience our uniquely compassionate patient education materials for yourself and see how we stack up! Request a FREE sample of Leveling Health booklets. And if you aren’t interested in any of our existing topics, we will work with you to create compassionate, custom content that will help you reach your specific goals.

  1. Fogarty LA, Curbow BA, Wingard JR, McDonnell K, Somerfield MR. Can 40 Seconds of Compassion Reduce Patient Anxiety? Journal of Clinical Oncology. 1999;17(1):371-371. doi:10.1200/jco.1999.17.1.371. 
  2. Lelorain S, Brédart A, Dolbeault S, Sultan S. A systematic review of the associations between empathy measures and patient outcomes in cancer care. Psycho-Oncology. 2012;21(12):1255-1264. doi:10.1002/pon.2115. 
  3. Cosley BJ, McCoy SK, Saslow LR, Epel ES. Is compassion for others stress buffering? Consequences of compassion and social support for physiological reactivity to stress. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2010;46(5):816-823. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.04.008. 
  4. Ironson G, Kremer H, Lucette A. Compassionate love predicts long-term survival among people living with HIV followed for up to 17 years. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2017:1-10. doi:10.1080/17439760.2017.1350742.

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